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Students, professor file Supreme Court brief on Affordable Care Act

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L-R, back row: Audrey Biggerstaff, Lauren McAuley, Rachel Belcher. Front row: Robert Chan and Amanda Siefman.

Students and faculty of Emory University's Barton Child Law and Policy Center have filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court that supports the Affordable Care Act and outlines the law's effect on child health in advance of the court's oral arguments in March.

The brief was filed by L.Q.C. Lamar Professor of Law Barbara Bennett Woodhouse and Bondurant Mixon & Elmore LLP Partner Jeffrey Bramlett on behalf of eight child advocacy organizations, including Emory Law's Barton Center. Woodhouse serves as faculty advisor for the center.

"The challenges to the Affordable Care Act had garnered great attention but few had focused on the implications for children," Woodhouse says. "Our position is that striking down the Affordable Care Act would be a major setback to children's access to affordable, quality care."

The brief was filed in support of the Affordable Care Act in the case of Department of Health and Human Services v. State of Florida, in which the government is seeking reversal of a decision in favor of Florida and 26 other states challenging the constitutionality of the act. Arguments are scheduled before the Supreme Court in late March.

A five-member team of Emory Law students: third-year students Robert Chan and Lauren McAuley, and second-year students Amanda Siefman, Rachel Belcher and Audrey Biggerstaff, worked on the brief in Woodhouse's practicum, The Child Rights Project, which teaches students to research and write amicus briefs on issues of importance to children.

"We were waiting to see what came up the pipeline and what was granted certiorari," Biggerstaff says. When it became likely the Florida case was the one, the five students started writing about mid-semester last fall.

On Dec. 20, they brought the brief to Bramlett, whose firm worked pro bono with them to polish the brief and take it across the finish line. Bondurant, Mixon & Elmore also donated the costs of printing and service.

The brief argues that children—especially foster children and those with serious illnesses—will face potentially life-threatening roadblocks to receiving adequate preventative, emergency and long-term healthcare if states are successful in trying to prevent the act's implementation.

In 2009, nearly eight million U.S. children did not have health insurance, according to a 2011 report by the Children's Defense Fund.

While the legal issues center on the Commerce Clause, which grants Congress power to regulate interstate commerce and markets, the amicus brief focuses on the harm to children if the Court finds that the healthcare law is unconstitutional.

Students looked at the life span of a child's health—from prenatal care to immunizations, obesity and unintended pregnancy. They also focused on some of the more vulnerable populations to throw the issue into high relief, Biggerstaff says.

Children with special health care issues often need such high levels of care that parents quit their jobs to care for them, losing their income and their employee-based insurance.

Or a child with a serious illness may be denied insurance because of a pre-existing medical condition or disability. The act specifically forbids the practice for children under age 19.

It was interesting and atypical writing, "because we didn't focus on the legal issues as much," Biggerstaff says. "It was more a social sciences approach. We left the legal matters up to the parties who will argue them."

"The ACA represents a leap forward in children's access to affordable quality health care. Its expansion of health care delivery to children generally, and especially to those with special health care needs, is a rational and appropriate policy decision well within Congress' power under the Commerce Clause to regulate the nationwide market for health services and to address the market's failure to advance and to protect the health of America's children," the brief reads.

The Child Rights Project, like the Barton Child Law and Policy Center, reflects Emory's commitment to train a new generation of lawyers to serve marginalized populations and to advocate for policies and legislation that may affect generations of children.

"Cases may come before the Supreme Court that are not obviously about children, but nevertheless have major impacts on children's lives," says Woodhouse. "Our students scouted the cases looking for one that was flying below the radar screen of child advocacy watchers."

In addition to the Barton Center, organizations represented in the brief include: The Juvenile Law Center; The University of Florida's Center on Children and Families; Emory's Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative; The Child Rights Project (Emory); The Civitas Child Law Center of Loyola University Chicago School of Law; The Health Justice Project at Loyola University Chicago School of Law; and the Center for the Human Rights of Children.

Biggerstaff was chosen by her fellow classmates to visit the U.S. Supreme Court in March to hear the oral arguments. Woodhouse, who clerked for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor following law school, secured a ticket to the hearing.

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