Tennessee might use outside lawyer to sue over insurance mandate

Chris Rizo Apr. 8, 2010, 12:43pm

Ron Ramsey (R)

Robert Cooper (D)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Legal Newsline)-If Tennessee's attorney general will not file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionally of the new federal health care law, the leader of the state Senate said outside counsel might be needed to handle the matter on behalf of legislators.

Senate Speaker and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Wednesday that he is prepared to ask an independent attorney to challenge a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that requires most Americans to have medical coverage by 2014 or face financial penalties.

More than a dozen state attorneys general are already challenging the provision, which President Barack Obama signed into law this month.

Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper and many other Democratic AGs contend that the group of mostly Republican attorneys general suing is misguided in their effort.

On Tuesday, Cooper said state lawmakers' effort to sidestep the national health care overhaul may be preempted by federal law and thus be unconstitutional.

Cooper additionally said his office could not defend or enforce the proposed Tennessee Health Freedom Act, noting that the plan outlined in Senate Bill 3498 conflicts with the new national health care law by prohibiting laws that require individuals to have health insurance.

Cooper's opinion stated that the legislation, now pending in the House Commerce Committee, would be superseded by the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, he said the bill raises issues over the separation of powers.

But Ramsey, a Republican candidate for governor this year, said Cooper has not looked at the broader question of whether the health care overhaul itself is constitutional.

"The attorney general issued an opinion that said that the federal supremacy laws and the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution takes precedence over state law," Ramsey was quoted by Nashville Public Radio as saying. "I'm not arguing that. To argue that, you assume that this bill is constitutional. First you challenge the constitutionality of it, before you can say that the federal constitution takes precedence over the state constitution."

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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