Georgia governor circumvents AG to join health care lawsuit

Chris Rizo Apr. 15, 2010, 2:57am

Sonny Perdue (R)

Thurbert Baker (D)

ATLANTA (Legal Newsline)-Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is suing the federal government over the constitutionality of the new health care reform law without the help of Democratic state Attorney General Thurbert Baker.

On Tuesday, the Republican governor announced the appointment of Frank C. Jones as a special attorney general to direct Georgia's participation in the lawsuit.

Jones, of counsel at Jones, Cork & Miller in Macon, Ga., and seven other attorneys working on the case are all providing their legal services to the state at no charge, the governor's office said in a statement.

"The importance of this legal challenge demands the very best representation possible and that is exactly what the state is receiving from Frank C. Jones," Perdue said. "Frank is one of the best and most respected lawyers in the state. We are grateful he recognizes the importance of this challenge and is taking up the cause on behalf of Georgians."

Georgia is the 19th state to sue over provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which President Barack Obama signed last month.

The health care overhaul will expand insurance coverage to more than 32 million Americans, marking the most significant expansion of medical care since Congress created Medicare in 1965 for the nation's elderly and disabled. The landmark statute, among other things, requires most Americans to have medical coverage beginning in 2014 or face financial penalties.

The law also will require that businesses with more than 50 workers provide employees health coverage or pay a $2,000-a-worker penalty if any of their employees get government-subsidized plans on their own.

Mostly Republican state attorneys general say the federal government's move to require individuals to have health insurance is unconstitutional. Their challenge, led by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, was filed last month in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

Like Perdue, Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, both Republicans, have sidestepped their respective state's attorney general to join the lawsuit.

Perdue had asked Baker, a Democratic candidate for governor, to join the legal challenge but the attorney general refused, saying in a March 24 letter to the governor that the multistate lawsuit is without merit.

"While I understand that the new law is the subject of ongoing debate here in Georgia and around the nation, I do not believe that Georgia has a viable legal claim against the United States," Baker wrote last month.

Baker's decision has drawn the ire of some state lawmakers who are working to impeach the attorney general over his refusal to join the lawsuit. The impeachment resolution -- HR 1886 by Republican state Rep. Mark Hatfield of Waycros -- argues that the state's constitution required Baker to follow the governor's request and join the lawsuit.

The states involved in the lawsuit are Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington, Idaho, South Dakota, Indiana, North Dakota, Mississippi, Nevada and Arizona. The Virginia attorney general is pursuing his own lawsuit.

For Baker to be removed from office, a majority of the 180 House members will have to approve articles of impeachment. A trial would be conducted in the Senate, where a two-thirds vote in that chamber would be necessary for the attorney general's ouster.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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