| In a long-awaited opinion, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today ruled that the state's exclusion of thousands of legal immigrants from state-subsidized health coverage likely violates its equal protection obligations under the law.
The court said that Massachusetts erred in 2009 when it cut health coverage for about 26,000 immigrants after state lawmakers eliminated $130 million in funding to help balance the state's budget.
The ruling did not order the state to reinstate full coverage for legal immigrants, but it paves the way for legal action by immigrant advocates that could do so.
The court said, "State laws that discriminate against legal immigrants in the distribution of economic benefits are subject to strict scrutiny," a stringent standard of judicial review.
The ruling said the state had used a lesser standard, known as "rational basis," when Massachusetts officials decided the action was legal under the state's constitution.
"The court said you have singled out this protected group, so you have to show us you had a very, very good reason for doing that, and the means by which you did that had the least impact possible on that protected group," said Matt Selig, executive director of Health Law Advocates, a Boston-based public interest law firm that filed the case on behalf of the immigrants...