Mass. Supreme Judicial Court on PRWORA

Mass. Supreme Judicial Court on PRWORA

"In this case, we apply strict scrutiny to a legislative appropriation that denied State subsidies for the purchase of health insurance to a category of noncitizen immigrants lawfully residing in the Commonwealth (qualified aliens). Under the appropriation, subsidies provided by the Commonwealth Care Health Insurance Program (Commonwealth Care) were made available only to individuals eligible for federally funded public benefit programs, as set forth in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), Pub. L. No. 104-193, as amended, codified at 8 U.S.C. §§ 1601-1646 (2006), thereby excluding qualified aliens residing in the country less than five years. On a reservation and report from the county court, we determined that this appropriation discriminated on the basis of alienage and national origin, both suspect classifications, and that it therefore should be subjected to strict scrutiny. Finch v. Commonwealth Health Ins. Connector Auth., 459 Mass. 655, 668-678 (2011) (Finch). We remanded the matter to the county court. Id. at 679. The plaintiffs moved for partial summary judgment, seeking a declaration, pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 56 (a), 365 Mass. 824 (1974), that the appropriation violates the principles of equal protection in the Massachusetts Constitution. The single justice again reported the matter to the full court.  The Attorney General was allowed to intervene on behalf of the Commonwealth, and asserts that the limiting language incorporated into the appropriation does not violate the equal protection provision of the Massachusetts Constitution, because it advances the compelling interest of furthering the national immigration policies expressed by Congress in PRWORA. We reject the Commonwealth's proffered justification for two reasons. First, in applying the standard of strict scrutiny the court is required to consider the statute's actual purpose, rather than relying on a hypothetical justification. Here, exclusively fiscal concerns, which the Commonwealth concedes are not, on their own, adequate to survive strict scrutiny, motivated the legislative enactment. Second, the strict scrutiny doctrine imposes rigorous procedural requirements on a State, to ensure that legislation is narrowly tailored to further a compelling interest. The Commonwealth made no attempt to comply with those requirements, and the policies and findings of fact expressed by Congress in PRWORA do not furnish a compelling interest for discrimination by the Commonwealth in its entirely State-run program. Consequently, we conclude that the limiting language of the appropriation cannot stand, and we remand the matter to the single justice with instructions to grant the plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment." -FINCH vs. COMMONWEALTH HEALTH INSURANCE CONNECTOR AUTHORITY, Jan. 5, 2012.