In a case suc­cess­fully argued by North­eastern Uni­ver­sity law pro­fessor Wendy Parmet, the Mass­a­chu­setts Supreme Judi­cial Court ruled on Thursday that the state could not exclude legal immi­grants from sub­si­dized health insurance.

We are very pleased for our clients and for the people who have gone without health care for a long time,” said Parmet, Matthews Dis­tin­guished Uni­ver­sity Pro­fessor of Law, who argued the case on behalf of the immi­grants who were cut from Com­mon­wealth Care in 2009 in a state budget-​​cutting move. “We are very hopeful now that their health insur­ance cov­erage will be restored very quickly.”

The lit­i­ga­tion was brought to court by Health Law Advo­cates, a public-​​interest law firm for which Parmet once served as board president.

The ruling reverses 2009 leg­is­la­tion that excluded some 29,000 legal immi­grants who had lived in the United States for less than five years from the Com­mon­wealth Care pro­gram, which has helped cover insur­ance pre­miums for low-​​income Mass­a­chu­setts res­i­dents since 2006. After funding for the pro­gram was slashed two years ago, many immi­grants were moved to a cheaper state plan that offers fewer health-​​care providers and requires par­tic­i­pants to pay higher fees for pre­scrip­tions and doctor’s visits.

Fol­lowing that leg­is­la­tion, Health Law Advo­cates lob­bied the leg­is­la­ture to repeal the law, hoping to avoid litigation.

But there wasn’t going to be a remedy short of going to court,” Parmet said, describing the group’s deci­sion to begin legal proceedings.

In the court’s ruling, Jus­tice Robert Crody wrote, “We rec­og­nize that our deci­sion will impose a sig­nif­i­cant finan­cial burden on the Com­mon­wealth,” but noted that costs couldn’t jus­tify a vio­la­tion of legal immi­grants’ equal pro­tec­tion under the law.

Parmet expects the court will soon issue an order to the Leg­is­la­ture to repeal its law and restore equal access to sub­si­dized health care to legal immi­grants. “The court ruled that the state Leg­is­la­ture cannot solve its fiscal prob­lems on the backs of legal immi­grants,” Parmet said. “It’s a very clear, deci­sive and unan­i­mous opinion that sends a clear mes­sage to the Legislature.”

Co-​​op stu­dents, fac­ulty mem­bers and recent alumni helped Parmet research the pro bono case. The case was “a real North­eastern effort,” she said.