Oklahoma will challenge health care reform

Jessica M. Karmasek Jan. 10, 2011, 12:18pm


OKLAHOMA CITY (Legal Newsline) - Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt announced on Friday that he will file a lawsuit against the federal government challenging the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's federal health care reform law.

"There is great clarity for me on the necessary and urgent need to exercise my responsibility to defend Oklahoma's Constitution against a federal government and president that have gone too far in their overreach of power and authority," Pruitt said in a statement.

Pruitt is one of three new Republican attorneys general who announced over the weekend lawsuits against the health care package. Georgia's Sam Olens, who was sworn in Monday, told The Associated Press he would sign off on a motion to join the challenge filed by Florida's former top attorney, Bill McCollum.

Ohio's Mike DeWine said during his swearing in on Sunday that his first action would be to challenge the health care law.

Pruitt said because Oklahomans passed State Question 756, which amended the state Constitution to say that Oklahomans cannot be forced to purchase insurance, the two laws cannot coexist. Preemption does not apply when a federal law is deemed unconstitutional, he said.

"The most logical way to defend our state Constitution is in an Oklahoma federal court not in another state," Pruitt said.

The attorney general, like many others, believes the health care act's individual mandate to be unconstitutional.

The health care reform, also known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, requires individuals to purchase health insurance or pay a $695 annual penalty.

Pruitt said he believes Oklahoma has a leg up, pointing to the current multi-state lawsuit and Virginia's lawsuit. Now familiar with their arguments, Oklahoma will be able to introduce "new" and "strengthened" arguments to counter the federal government's, he explained.

And by filing in Oklahoma, the state will add another circuit of the federal court system considering arguments on the constitutionality of the act, Pruitt said.

This, he said, enhances the reasons for the Supreme Court to expedite a hearing of the issue.

"I deeply respect the efforts of General (Pam) Bondi, and the other attorneys general involved in the Florida litigation, as well as the efforts of General (Ken) Cuccinelli in Virginia. I am confident with our collective efforts we will prevail," Pruitt said.

Oklahoma Gov.-elect Mary Fallin applauded Pruitt's announcement.

"President Obama's health care plan is bad for our economy, bad for our health and bad for our states, which must shoulder the burden of hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded mandates. It's also an unconstitutional Washington power-grab that seeks to force our citizens to buy certain products," she said.

"The people of Oklahoma voted overwhelmingly to oppose that power-grab and to reject policies that replace individual choice with the choices of Washington bureaucrats. I am happy to join our new attorney general in announcing that Oklahoma is challenging the federal health care law in court, standing up to Washington and defending our Constitution and the rights of our citizens."

The Oklahoma Attorney General's Office said the lawsuit will be handled by its staff, and no outside counsel will be retained.

Last week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also authorized Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to proceed on behalf of the state with a legal challenge to the health care act.

Van Hollen, who was reelected in November, had requested permission to join the suit in the spring but was denied by state officials, most of whom were Democrats. Now, the state has a Republican governor and the GOP is in control of both chambers of the Legislature.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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