Health Care: to Sue or Not to Sue
By John Gramlich, Staff Writer
The question of whether states should sue over federal health care reform is a legal matter that is quickly turning into a partisan wedge issue, pitting governors against their own attorneys general in states where they come from different political parties.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat, is refusing to join lawsuits filed by 14 of his counterparts- all of them Republicans except Louisiana's Buddy Caldwell — because he considers legal action "a waste of scarce taxpayer dollars," The Arizona Republic reported . "These lawsuits will be considered in federal court with or without Arizona's participation," Goddard said.
Goddard's position has prompted Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to mull calling a special session "that would give her explicit permission to sue the federal government on the state's behalf over the legislation signed into law Tuesday by President Barack Obama," the Republic reported.
The 14 states now suing over health care contend that the new law violates the Constitution because it forces individuals to buy health insurance. Legal experts, including conservatives, have cast doubt on the states' contention, predicting that their suits will fail. But that hasn't put a damper on the political fireworks.
On Thursday (March 25), Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, a Republican, said he would work around Democratic Attorney General Thurbert Baker and appoint a "special attorney general" who — unlike Baker — will sue over health care, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported .
"That will be the governor's prerogative," said Baker, who, like Goddard, thinks a state lawsuit would be a waste of money. "He can do that under state law."
In Nevada, Republican Governor Jim Gibbons on Wednesday (March 24) wrote a letter urging his Democratic attorney general to file a lawsuit, but Catherine Cortez Masto refused to be pressured, saying she "must be satisfied in my own professional judgment that the case has merit and should be filed," The Associated Press reported .
In Washington, Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire and her Republican attorney general, Rob McKenna, are also at odds over whether to sue, as The Christian Science Monitor noted in a story exploring what happens when two powerful elected officials have different perspectives on the same legal question.
In general, "State attorneys general are constitutionally independent state officers and have autonomy in their decisions to take action on behalf of their states," Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., told The Monitor .
But, as the case of Georgia proves, governors may have other ways of working around their top prosecutors if they disagree. And in Wisconsin, the attorney general needs permission from other state leaders to file a lawsuit, and Democrats rebuffed Republican J.B. Van Hollen on Thursday, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported .
In other states, political pressure on attorneys general is coming from the public or from legislators.
In Arkansas, opponents of the new health care law picketed outside Democratic Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's office on Wednesday, demanding that he sue to block it, the Arkansas News Bureau reported .
In Virginia, which already has filed suit, the Republican attorney general and Republican Governor Bob McDonnell — who used to be attorney general himself — both oppose the new health care law. But state Democrats have made an open-records request to find out exactly how much time and money the state will be spending on its legal pursuit, The Virginian-Pilot reported .