Okla. AG asks judge to lift stay in health care suit

Jessica M. Karmasek Jul. 30, 2012, 1:55pm


OKLAHOMA CITY (Legal Newsline) - Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has asked a federal judge to lift a stay on the state's health care lawsuit, allowing it time to address the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling on the federal health care law.

Oklahoma's suit was filed Jan. 21, 2011 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma. It is pending before Judge Ronald White, who stayed the case while the nation's high court decided the multi-state suit.

More than two years after President Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law, the Court ruled 5-4 that most of it is constitutional.

In its highly-anticipated ruling last month, the Court said the controversial provision of the law requiring individuals to purchase insurance or face a financial penalty is a constitutional tax.

The individual mandate imposed a $695 annual penalty on individuals who did not purchase health insurance. Obama's own budget director said in February that the mandate was not a tax.

"The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.

"Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness."

Roberts was joined in the majority by Obama-appointees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, as well as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Voting against the law were justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

The Court also said that if a state does not comply with new eligibility requirements for Medicaid, the states can only lose new funds available instead of all of their funding.

"The Supreme Court agreed with Oklahoma's claims that the Commerce Clause does not give the federal government power to compel Americans to buy a product. But in the process, the Court found the individual mandate to be a new tax, which now raises significant questions about its validity as a revenue-raising measure," Pruitt said in a statement Friday, after his office filed its three-page motion with the federal court.

"This is a critical issue for Oklahoma residents and businesses, so we are asking the court to lift the stay and give us 30 days to determine the next step."

Pruitt says his office is reviewing several aspects of the health care law and tax, including a new rule by the Internal Revenue Service.

The rule, he says, contradicts a provision in the health care law that keeps businesses from being taxed for lack of employee insurance coverage in states like Oklahoma, where a state-run health insurance exchange has not been created.

Pruitt says attorneys, led by state Solicitor General Patrick R. Wyrick, also are assessing the effect of the Court's ruling on Oklahoma's constitutional amendment that prohibits any government from "mandating" residents to purchase health insurance.

State Question 756, otherwise known as the Oklahoma Health Care Freedom Amendment, was passed in November 2010 with more than 70 percent of the vote.

"This lawsuit has never been about health care. It is about the limits of the federal government under the spirit and letter of the Constitution, and whether they have exceeded those limits through this act," Pruitt said.

"Our duty is to defend the states' role and provide a check for this out-of-control administration that unashamedly seeks to exceed its authority."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

More News