As Attorney General, Scott Pruitt will challenge federal health care mandate

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published 07-Jan-2011

Oklahoma Attorney General-elect Scott Pruitt said today (Friday, January 7, 2011) he intends to file — in a federal court within the Sooner State — a lawsuit to oppose President Barack Obama’s federal health care reform bill. He said the lawsuit will focus on challenging the federal mandate that individuals must purchase health insurance.

Pruitt said he felt a sense of “clarity and urgency” about filing the lawsuit. He told reporters the lawsuit was “not about politics” but was a determined effort to “defend Oklahoma’s constitution against the federal government’s overreach and intrusion.” He bluntly stated, “Our constitution cannot co-exist with the federal health care law.”

Pruitt said the state of Oklahoma would file its own lawsuit and affirm its standing due to passage of State Question 756, the Oklahoma Health Care Freedom Amendment, which entered into the state constitution an explicit right for Oklahomans to decide on health insurance questions for themselves, without a federal mandate for coverage.

Oklahoma will become the third state to challenge the law, following Virginia and Florida. He emphasized the ballot proposition gives the state “legal standing to challenge this law directly.” Only seven other states have similar provisions. However, a total of 26 states have placed themselves in opposition to legislation critics have deemed “ObamaCare.”

“We should learn from Virginia and Florida,” Pruitt said. He said Oklahoma’s “new and strengthened” position due to the constitutional provision allows it to contribute to the legal debate about the mandate issue.

As attorney general, Pruitt will likely enjoy strong legislative support in challenging the federal law. Sponsors of the anti-mandate provision included state Rep. Mike Ritze and state Sen. Dan Newberry

Additionally, incoming state Insurance Commissioner John Doak was a strong advocate of “yes” votes during the fall campaign for S.Q. 752.

Oklahoma’s lawsuit could – and almost certainly would — eventually bring a third federal circuit court of appeals into the national argument about the law’s dramatic expansion of the federal role in health care. Virginia is in the Fourth Circuit; Florida is in the Eleventh; Oklahoma is in the Tenth.

Pruitt said the cost of litigation would be handled within the range of taxpayer resources already within the attorney general’s budget. He stressed the effort would not drawn resources from other units of the office. He reminded listeners the case will involve briefing and oral advocacy, without  costs involved in discovery and other aspects of trial cases.

Pruitt said the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy and preemption clauses do not apply in a controversy such as this, where a basic question the law presents is the federal government’s assertion: “You must engage in commerce so that we can regulate you.” Pruitt said he did not question that Congress may legislate concerning health care policy, but that the new law went far beyond prudent or reasonable exercise of federal power.

Two attorneys already on the Attorney General’s staff are already working in the effort, the incoming attorney general said. Pruitt said Sandy Rinehart and Neal Leader will spearhead Oklahoma’s challenge. Rinehart was part of the team Edmondson put together several months ago to review the issue, leading to his decision not to challenge the law.

In the course of his discussion with reporters, Pruitt said he respected Attorney General Edmondson’s decision not to challenge the law, even though “I didn’t agree with it.” He added that Edmondson’s decision was reached months before before enactment of the state question.  At the time of his decision not to enter any litigation against the federal law, Edmondson said, “if the Legislature passes a resolution directing this office to enter the lawsuit we will do so as required by statute.”

Governor-elect Mary Fallin had a representative from her office in attendance at the press announcement. After Pruitt’s briefing, she sent to news organizations, including CapitolBeatOK, a statement saying:

“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. 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.”

Pruitt closed a prepared statement by saying, “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 Kenneth Cuccinelli in Virginia.  I am confident with our collective efforts we will prevail.”

In the course of his exchange with reporters, Pruitt said Edmondson, a Democrat, had worked with him since shortly after the November election to assure what the incoming Republican called an “outstanding” transition process.