05.06.11: The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has ruled in support of the plaintiffs on a key constitutional question in Finch v. Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, a case brought by Health Law Advocates (HLA) on behalf of a class of approximately 40,000 legal immigrants who were denied access to Commonwealth Care, the state’s program that provides subsidized health insurance for low and moderate income individuals who otherwise lack access to health insurance, by virtue of a 2009 state law.

"The Supreme Judicial Court’s opinion today marks an important reaffirmation that the constitution of the commonwealth protects the rights of all legal residents," said Wendy Parmet,  who argued the case before the SJC in November. Parmet is a faculty member at Northeastern University School of Law. "In ruling that the Legislature’s decision to deny legal immigrants access to Commonwealth Care must be subject to strict scrutiny, the Court reaffirmed that equal protection must be respected even in times of fiscal distress."

Parmet and the HLA team claimed that the 2009 law violates the equal protections provisions of the Massachusetts Constitution. “The state contends that the state constitution does not treat aliens as a protected class and that the 1996 federal welfare reform law authorizes the 2009 act," said Parmet. "The case was originally brought before a single justice of the SJC, and after many a procedural turn, including a trip to and from federal court, we ended up briefing and arguing four questions before the full SJC in November.”

Lorianne Sainsbury-Wong served as lead HLA lawyer for the case, and many Northeastern law graduate fellows and co-op students were involved.

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