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The role of courts in our system is to do just this

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today ruled that a 2009 law denying state funded healthcare to certain legal immigrants violated the Massachusetts state constitution's equal protection clause.

Faced with a budget shortfall two years ago, Massachusetts legislators voted to restrict government funded healthcare benefits to a certain class of legal immigrants who had been in the country for less than five years, saving the Commonwealth tens of millions of dollars. Governor Deval Patrick opposed the change; ultimately a compromise was struck that retained healthcare for immigrant children, while still cutting millions of dollars and eliminating coverage for immigrant adults.

But the highest court in Massachusetts shot it down today, arguing that the law mandated unconstitutional discrimination, violating the equal protection clause of our state constitution. 

Justice Robert Cordy wrote for the court in a unanimous ruling:

The discrimination against legal immigrants…violates their rights to equal protection under the Massachusetts Constitution. We recognize that our decision will impose a significant financial burden on the Commonwealth…If the plaintiffs' right to equal protection of the laws has been violated by the enactment of [the law], then it is our duty to say so.

The battle over healthcare for immigrants in Massachusetts demonstrates how the three branches of our government are supposed to function. The legislative and executive branches of government craft and execute laws, while the judicial branch holds the laws and the government to account, defending the first principles laid down in the federal and state consitutions. 

Kudos to the SJC for standing up for first principles like equality under the law, even when theirs may be a politically unpopular decision.

Read the full decision here. Read the ACLUm's amicus brief in support of the challenge here.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.