Which Attorneys General Will Sue Over Health Care Reform?

As you probably know by now, 13 Republicans attorneys general are suing to block the individual mandate in federal health care reform, claiming that it is ...
by | March 24, 2010

As you probably know by now, 13 Republicans attorneys general are suing to block the individual mandate in federal health care reform, claiming that it is unconstitutional. Twelve of them (along with Democrat Buddy Caldwell of Louisiana) are collaborating on one suit, while Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is pursuing separate legal action.

That got me wondering: What about the Republican attorneys general who aren't part of the suit? Are they going to join? And what about the other Democrats in conservative states similar to Louisiana?

There are five Republican attorney general who aren't already part of a suit. Of these, four of them say in roughly the same terms that they are contemplating the issue. Those are Indiana's Greg Zoeller, North Dakota's Wayne Stenehjem, Alaska's Dan Sullivan and Hawaii's Mark Bennett.

The final Republican AG, Wisconsin's J.B. Van Hollen says in a statement that he'll study the issue, but only if he gets legal permission:

Second, Governor Doyle or either house of the state legislature must authorize the Attorney General to bring or join such a legal action.  Absent such authorization, he is prevented from doing so by state law.

That approval in Wisconsin seems unlikely since Doyle is a Democrat and both houses of the legislature are controlled by Democrats. Still, I think it's fair to say that every Republican AG is at least entertaining the idea of suing.

Now, on to the Democrats, which may be more politically interesting. By my count, there are 12 other Democratic attorneys general who, like Caldwell, serve in states carried by John McCain in 2008. These Democratic AGs are facing the most pressure to oppose the individual mandate in court. Among them, there's a notable split.

Some are saying they're studying the issue, but aren't tipping their hands (so far as I can tell) as to what they're going to decide. They include Oklahoma's Drew Edmondson, Wyoming's Bruce Salzburg, Missouri's Chris Koster, Mississippi's Jim Hood, Tennessee's Bob Cooper and Kansas' Steve Six .

West Virginia's Darrell McGraw also probably should be included on this list, although the way a deputy attorney general in his office frames the issue seems (to me) to imply support for health care reform. From MetroNews:

As of Tuesday morning, 11 attorneys general were part of the challenge, many of them Republicans. West Virginia Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes says it looks like the usual Washington politics.

"We don't think people make wise decisions when they are overexcited and ready to strike," Hughes told MetroNews Tuesday. "They allow politics to permeate their thinking process."

...

"We need to receive a copy of the bill and read it carefully, every provision and hear from citizens as to their thoughts as to how its affecting them,"she said. "We are very hopeful this has a positive affect on West Virginians."

Others are rejecting the suit outright, calling it a waste of money and a political stunt. They include: Kentucky's Jack Conway, Arizona's Terry Goddard, Arkansas' Dustin McDaniel, Georgia's Thurbert Baker and Montana's Steve Bullock.

I can't imagine that, from a legal perspective, it matters whether 10 or 15 or 20 attorneys general are joining the suit. So, of course, the reason this is noteworthy is politics. Some of these attorneys general are running for reelection and many are gunning for higher office, be it governorships or the U.S. Senate.

The sensitive politics is probably part of the reason so many AGs are delaying a decision on joining the suit. Perhaps (although perhaps not) the politics of health care reform will be a little bit clearer in a few more weeks.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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