Editor’s notebook: Eyewitness to history, ultrasound appeal, revenue softening, support for Israel

Oklahoma Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt and U.S. Sen. James Inhofe were eyewitnesses to history last week, observing oral arguments in the historic challenge to the 2010 federal health care law. 

Also in an editor’s notebook: Pruitt will appeal a county judge’s decision striking down Oklahoma’s law requiring ultra sounds before abortions, state Treasurer Ken Miller appears poised to announce a softening in state tax revenue receipts, and U.S. Rep. James Lankford is meeting with a bi-partisan group of OU students about mutual support for the Nation of Israel.

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Attorney General Pruitt had a ringside seat for last week’s U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments over the health care law. In a discussion with reporters, Pruitt noted that many advocates of the legislation had denounced lawsuits, like Oklahoma’s, challenging the measure’s constitutionality were denounced as “frivolous” in 2010 and 2011. But no one is saying that now, after a narrow majority of the High Court signaled at least some of its provisions are under intense scrutiny.

Pruitt told reporters at a Washington, D.C. press conference, where he joined several other state Attorneys General, “Two years ago, all across this country, many liberals and conservatives jurists thought the lawsuits brought by the states were frivolous. Well, the Supreme Court does not take up frivolous lawsuits. They take up consequential lawsuits. They recognize that what is at stake in this lawsuit, in this appeal, in this decision is truly liberty and federalism.  

“It has been an honor to be a part of this process, hear these Justices ask the questions that each of my friends behind me have been asking for two years: Where are the limitations?  Isn’t this unprecedented? Was it necessary to pass it under the commerce clause? All these issues have been expressed over the past three days.

“I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will uphold our lawsuit and deny the Constitutionality of this law. Send it back to Congress to make sure when they do healthcare reform, they do it within the confines of the Constitution to preserve liberty and freedom for the individuals and the states.”
U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, a Tulsa Republican, told reporters, ““I am very proud of our state’s Attorney General.  He has put Oklahoma in a leadership role, and he is working to stop the oppressive things that the government is doing.” Inhofe joined three amicus briefs challenging the law, two of them among the briefs the court has accepted in the current case. 

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Speaking of Pruitt, he quickly announced he would appeal the decision of Oklahoma County Judge Bryan Dixon striking down a law that requires Oklahoma clinics to provide information, including ultrasounds, to women considering abortion. 

Pruitt contends, “The law is about presenting abortion accurately with full information about the outcome. We have an obligation to protect our citizens and make sure abortion is held to the same standard as any medically informed decision.” 

The law was sponsored by state Rep. Lisa Billy, a Lindsay Republican. 
Senator Constance Johnson, an Oklahoma City Democrat, hailed Judge Dixon’s decision striking the law down as unconstitutional. Johnson recalled the measure as “a highly contentious bill when it went through the legislature.  I continue to commend former Gov. Brad Henry’s wisdom in vetoing this measure and am still shocked by the Republican legislative majority’s willingness to override his veto.” 
The law is being challenged by the Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York-based abortion rights group. A temporary injunction blocking the law’s enforcement has been in effect since May 2010. 

Last week, Capitol reporters pressed state officials on the issue, wondering if the state government is wasting money advocating for laws that in some cases are struck down in the courts. Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman, a Sapulpa Republican, countered that view, saying, “Oklahoma is a pro-life state.”

Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage, a Claremore Democrat, expressed worry about litigation costs – noting, however, that he was among several Democrats who had backed pro-life measures in recent years. Asked if there were many pieces of legislation struck down during years Democrats governed the state, Burrage answered succinctly, “Certainly.”

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Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller is holding his regular monthly briefing for Capitol reporters on Tuesday (April 3). In today’s notice to the media, Miller promised details on “the end of a two-year growth streak in revenue collections and an increasing focus on the state’s energy sector as natural gas prices continue to fall.”

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U.S. Rep. James Lankford, an Oklahoma City Republican, has emerged as one of the most ardent supporters of Israel among the first-term members of Congress. He is meeting with pro-Israel students on the University of Oklahoma campus. 

The gathering is being co-sponsored by College Republicans, Young Democrats, OU Hillel, the Union Programming Board and the OU College of International Studies.