Attorney General-elect Scott Pruitt has announced that the state of Oklahoma will file an independent lawsuit against the federal government to challenge the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s federal health care reform law in the coming weeks.
Speaking about the need to file independently, Pruitt said, “There is great clarity for me on the necessary and urgent need to exercise my responsibility to defend Oklahoma’s Constitution against a federal government and president that have gone too far in their overreach of power and authority.”
Governor-elect Mary Fallin provided the following statement, “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.”
Fallin, a Republican, defeated Democratic candidate, and then-Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins last December. Incumbent Democratic Governor Brad Henry was barred from seeking reelection due to term limits. Current Attorney General Drew Edmondson, a Democrat, ran for Governor in 2010, but was defeated by Askins in the primary. Last April Republican leadership in the state had announced an interest in challenging the health care law, after Edmondson rebuffed suggestions that he join a group of other state Attorney Generals challenging the legislation (see OK Republicans Promise Health Care Reform Legal Challenge).
Regarding the new initiative, Pruitt noted that, because Oklahomans passed State Question 756, the Oklahoma Health Care Freedom Amendment, which amended the state Constitution to say that Oklahomans cannot be forced to purchase insurance, those two laws cannot coexist. Preemption does not apply when a federal law is deemed unconstitutional, he said, and, as such, “The most logical way to defend our state Constitution is in an Oklahoma federal court not in another state.”
Pruitt expressed his sole desire in filing the lawsuit was to successfully defeat the requirement of the federal health care act that will force Oklahomans to purchase a product or face fines and penalties by the federal government – the so-called “individual mandate”, which Pruitt said he believes to be unconstitutional.
In announcing the decision, the Attorney General-elect noted that Oklahoma has the advantage of learning from the arguments the federal government put forth in the legal proceedings with Virginia and Florida, which he said will allow Oklahoma to introduce “new and strengthened arguments” to counter those. Additionally, by filing in Oklahoma, he said the state will add another circuit of the federal court system considering arguments on the constitutionality of the act. “This enhances the reasons for the Supreme Court to expedite a hearing of the issue,” according to the announcement.
Pruitt stated the lawsuit will be handled by staff internal to the Attorney General’s office, and no outside counsel will be retained.
Pruitt closed by saying, “I deeply respect the efforts of General Bondi, and the other Attorneys General involved in the Florida litigation, as well as the efforts of General Cuccinelli in Virginia. I am confident with our collective efforts we will prevail.” Twenty states are challenging the health care legislation at present, in addition to other challenges. To date, two federal judges have ruled that the legislation is constitutional (see Judge Declares HCR Law Constitutional, Liberty College HCR Challenge Dismissed), one has rejected that argument (see Judge Strikes Down HCR Coverage Mandate), and the federal judge in Florida who is hearing the case brought by the 20 states has not yet ruled (Court Green Lights FL HCR Challenge).