Edmondson declines to join health care lawsuits, criticism follows

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 09-Apr-2010

Oklahoma Attorney General
Drew Edmondson announced
this afternoon (Friday, April 9, 2010) that he will not join litigation
against the new federal
health care
law unless compelled to do so by legislative action.

Responses from legislative leaders strongly hint he may get that

Edmondson told reporters, including this writer,
his staff had extensively reviewed both the law and the reconciliation bill and concluded any legal
challenge would likely be unsuccessful. He said he would only enter a
Florida lawsuit challenging the bill if the Oklahoma Legislature required it.

said, “The process employed by Congress to secure passage of this bill
reeked of partisanship. The health care bill
is the flawed result of a flawed process, but that alone does not make
the law unconstitutional. This office does not enter lawsuits lightly
nor do we enter lawsuits based on political expediency.”

In his
prepared remarks, Edmondson continued, “That said, if the Legislature passes a
resolution directing this office to enter the lawsuit we will do so as
required by statute. Based on our legal review I cannot in good
conscience commit this office to the suit. If legislative politics order
us in that direction I will follow the law.”

As he spoke to the
press, Edmondson occasionally gestured at a printout of the legislation
and the reconciliation bill that followed, totaling some 2,500 pages in
length. He praised his legal staff for their work examining the law.

reaction to Edmondson’s decision came soon after conclusion of the
Attorney General’s meeting with a handful of reporters in the ground
floor conference room at his office on N.E. 21st street in Oklahoma City.

Pro Tem Glenn Coffee,
in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, said, “Today we have taken a
giant step backwards. By filing this lawsuit, we could thwart the
liberal left’s push to encroach on the liberties of all Oklahomans.
Attorney General Drew Edmondson has refused to make this bipartisan move
to challenge the constitutionality of Obamacare. But we as a
Legislature will continue to fight for the state of Oklahoma and not
allow the government to strip away our liberties one mandate at a time.”

House Speaker Chris Benge commented, “I am incredibly
disappointed that Attorney
General Edmondson
has chosen to ignore the will of not only the
Legislature, but also a majority of Oklahomans by refusing to join 19
other states fighting federally-mandated health care. The Oklahoma people have made it clear
that they do not want this legislation, nor can they or the state afford
it. However, this move will not stop our resolve and we will be looking
at all of our options moving forward as we continue to fight against
this heavy-handed approach to health care.” Benge and members of the
House have pressed against the federal law since before its enactment.

U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, considered front runner for the
Republican nomination for governor, quickly issued this statement: “I am
disappointed and extremely frustrated that Attorney General Drew
Edmondson has ignored the wishes of Oklahomans and refused to join the
bipartisan effort to fight the unconstitutional federal takeover of
health care passed by President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. This bill will
destroy jobs, impose hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded mandates on
Oklahoma taxpayers and reduce the freedoms of all Americans. It is
unacceptable that our attorney general is taking his marching orders
from the national
Democratic Party
in Washington rather than defending the rights
and interests of working Oklahomans.”

Fallin has been a
persistent voice in the loud chorus calling on Edmondson to seek to slap
down the new law.

Although critics represent an apparent majority of Oklahomans,
the law has defenders, including many legislative Democrats.

Edmondson, a Democrat also seeking to become the state’s chief
executive, told reporters, “This lawsuit is not a slam dunk, not by a
long shot. That’s why I chose a reasoned review over a knee-jerk
reaction. It’s easy for elected officials and political candidates with
no seat at the table to posture, but it’s an entirely different thing to
sue Uncle Sam. There are consequences that must be weighed.”

outlined areas he said had raised the substantive issues in the
deliberations of his staff, including several touching the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. He
commented on contentions that the new law commandeers the state’s
exercise of executive, legislative and judicial powers. He also pointed
to concerns that the legislation’s financial inducements might turn into
impermissible federal government compulsion. Edmondson characterized
these and other criticisms of the new law as “not frivolous, but not
compelling.” He said constitutional arguments against the new law “might
best be characterized as ‘weak.’”

In the end, Edmondson said,
“It is our determination that the state’s limited resources should not
be expended in attacking” the law. He noted that challenges have been
filed in Florida
and Virginia, and issues raised by critics of the law “will be dealt
with.” Edmondson recalled that he had joined a group of state attorneys
general in objecting to the “Nebraska provision,” and would have sued if
that provision had not been removed in the reconciliation measure that
followed passage of the main
health care bill

In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, Edmondson said
individual assertions of liberty interests would lead to different analysis than what his staff had pursued in recent weeks, likely
touching on the federal government’s taxing power. Although he
anticipated those challenges would also fail, he said they will
undoubtedly be aired thoroughly in lawsuits filed in the western district of Oklahoma.