The last of the cases challenging the constitutionality of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA) has been dismissed by the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Alabama.
The challenge had been filed by ElderLawAnswers member attorney Jim Zeigler, who sued because the version of the DRA voted on by the House was not identical to that passed by the Senate, in apparent violation of the U.S. Constitution's requirement that both chambers of Congress pass identical versions of a bill before the bill can be signed into law by the President. (See "Elder Law Attorney Sues Over New 'Law' Affecting Medicaid Transfers")
Among various cuts in social programs, the DRA placed severe restrictions on the ability of the elderly to transfer assets before qualifying for Medicaid coverage of nursing home care. The legislation barely passed both houses of Congress, but the President signed a bill that had been passed by the Senate but not the House of Representatives. In addition to Zeigler, others challenging the DRA on these grounds were the consumer group Public Citizen, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and ten other members of Congress, an independent professional student loan firm, and two individual Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) institutions. Federal courts have dismissed all these suits.
In her ruling on Zeigler's suit, federal judge Callie Granade granted the Justice Department's motion to dismiss because of an 1892 Supreme Court ruling that enunciated "the enrolled bill doctrine." In that ruling, Marshall Field & Co. v. Clark (143 U.S. 649 (1892)), the Court said that once the President has signed a bill that the presiding officers of both houses attest is the bill passed by Congress, a court should not look behind the President's signature to question whether it in fact passed both houses. Zeigler had argued that the Field ruling did not apply. The judge noted that at least three other federal courts hearing similar challenges to the DRA have also ruled that Fieldapplies.
To read the full text of the court's ruling in Zeigler v. Gonzales (S.D. Ala., Civ. Act. No. 06-0080-CG-M, June 28, 2007), click on the Document Source link below.