Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson announced Friday, April 9 that he will not join litigation against the new federal health care law unless compelled to do so by legislative action. Response from legislative leaders strongly hints he may get that opportunity.
Edmondson told reporters his staff had extensively reviewed both the law and the reconciliation bill and concluded any legal challenge would likely be unsuccessful.
Edmondson 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, Edmondson occasionally gestured at a printout of the legislation and the reconciliation bill that followed, totaling some 2,500 pages in length.
Negative reaction to Edmondson’s decision came soon after conclusion of the Attorney General’s meeting with a handful of reporters, including this writer, in the ground floor conference room at his office on N.E. 21st street in Oklahoma City.
President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, an Oklahoma City Republican said in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, “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 of Tulsa 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.”
U.S. 5 District Rep. Mary Fallin, considered front runner for the Republican nomination for governor, said, “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.”
Edmondson outlined some areas he said had raised the most 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 commandeer 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 government compulsion. Edmondson characterized these and other criticisms of the new law as “not frivolous, but not compelling.” He said many 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 said challenged have been filed in Florida and Virginia, and the issues raised by critics of the law “will be dealth 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 he 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 undoubtedly will be aired thoroughly in lawsuits expected in the western district of Oklahoma.
About the Author: Pat McGuigan is capitol editor for Tulsa Today. He runs CapitolBeatOK, an online news service, from Oklahoma City.