Attorney General Pruitt files federal lawsuit against Health Care Act

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published 21-Jan-2011

Oklahoma Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt on Friday (January 21) filed a lawsuit on behalf of the state of Oklahoma, making it the 28th state to challenge the constitutionality of the individual mandate provision of the federal health care act.

Pruitt explained the lawsuit will enhance the collective efforts of the majority of states suing the federal government because it contains strengthened arguments against the independent mandate in response to shifting legal strategy by the federal government. It further includes allegations that focus on the non-severability of the health care act, which would find the entire act to be invalid if any part is held to be unconstitutional.

“We have an advantage of learning from the arguments the federal government put forth in the legal proceedings with Virginia and Florida, which allows Oklahoma to enhance the strategy used by those respective states. We did this to address the federal government’s citing of the Necessary and Proper Clause to justify the individual mandate, even though any use of the clause must be consistent with both ‘the letter and spirit’ of the Constitution, which this act is not,” Pruitt said. “We also have included robust allegations that seek to have the entire act stricken by addressing the non-severability of the law.”

Additionally, the lawsuit will defend Oklahoma’s recent passage of the Oklahoma Health Care Freedom Amendment, which amended the state Constitution to say that Oklahomans cannot be required to purchase individual health care coverage. 

 “Again, there is great clarity for me on the necessary and urgent need to exercise my responsibility to defend Oklahoma’s Constitution against a federal law that requires our state’s citizens to purchase a product or face penalties from the federal government,” Pruitt said. “In November, Oklahoma voters made clear their belief that the federal government, in this instance, has overreached its power and authority.”

The complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, raises the issue of whether the U.S. Congress is empowered under the Commerce Clause to require citizens to purchase health insurance coverage or be penalized for not doing so.

The challenged provision, Section 1501 of the Act, is commonly known as the Individual Mandate. This provision requires that every U.S. citizen, other than those falling within specified exceptions, maintain a minimum level of health insurance coverage beginning in 2014. Failure to comply will result in a penalty included in the taxpayer’s annual tax return. This mandate will require non-exempt Oklahomans to either purchase health insurance for themselves and their dependents or pay a civil penalty designed to force them into such a purchase.

In filing the case, Pruitt carried through on steps he had told reporters, shortly before he took the oath of office, he envisioned to challenge the controversial federal law.

“By voting to pass State Question 756 by an overwhelming margin, the people of Oklahoma made it clear that a federally enforced mandate to purchase health insurance is both undesirable and unconstitutional,” Gov. Mary Fallin said.

“Furthermore, President Obama’s health care plan would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in the middle of a severe budget crisis. I am proud that Oklahoma can now be counted among the states standing up for constitutional rights and opposing a law that is harmful to both our economy and to the health of our citizens.”

Pruitt added that Oklahoma’s recently approved Oklahoma Health Care Freedom Amendment and the federal health care act cannot coexist, and that federal preemption does not apply when a federal law is deemed unconstitutional.

As such, he commented on his obligation to defend the Oklahoma law, “The most logical way to defend our state Constitution is in an Oklahoma federal court, not in another state,” Pruitt said.

By filing in Oklahoma, the state adds another circuit of the federal court system considering arguments on the constitutionality of the act. This enhances the reasons for the U.S. Supreme Court to expedite a hearing on 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,” Pruitt said. “I am confident with our collective efforts we will prevail.”

The Oklahoma lawsuit will be handled by internal staff in the Attorney General’s office, and no outside counsel will be retained.  The complaint is available online here.

Supporting Attorney General Pruitt’s action in a statement late this afternoon was Jason Sutton, health policy analyst at the Center for Health Freedom, an arm of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. In comments emailed to CapitolBeatOK, Sutton said:

“OCPA supports the efforts of Gov. Mary Fallin and Attorney General Pruitt to protect Oklahomans from this absurd overreach by the federal government. Not only does the individual mandate to purchase health insurance stand as the greatest threat to individual liberty in recent memory, but the entire health reform bill is written in a way that will raise premiums on the insured, increase taxes on hardworking families, eliminate jobs and push states toward bankruptcy.

“More than half the states in the nation have filed lawsuits pushing back against bureaucrats who think they can manage our health decisions better than we can. This lawsuit is an important step in protecting our freedom.”

Pruitt’s action came at the end of an eventful week which saw “ObamaCare” rejected in the U.S. House of Representatives. Here in Oklahoma City, contending press conferences at the state Capitol on the day of the congressional debate presented starkly contrasting interpretations of the merits and demerits of the federal law.

Note: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.