Meg Whitman declared earlier this week that she would force her attorney general to fight health care reform, wading into a debate that’s eliciting fascinating conflicts and conclusions in numerous states.
Before we peer across the California border, though, take a moment for a hat tip to the Los Angeles Times and other journalists who were paying attention in civics class. They pressed the leading GOP gubernatorial candidate after her speech on whether she could really “force” an attorney general to do anything.
When questioned by reporters afterward, however, she conceded that she would not have the power as governor to demand such a move from the independently elected attorney general.
"I wouldn't order him to; I would strongly encourage him to," she said. "I don't think you can actually order the attorney general."
Nevermind that California’s next attorney general might be “her,” such as AG candidate and San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris, an ardent Obama supporter.
This question, though, of what power states have to fight the federal government is being asked from coast to coast. The Florida attorney general was among the first to step out on the issue, filing a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s power to force people to buy insurance, a concept called the “individual mandate.”
His lawsuit also claims that the law infringes on state’s sovereignty by forcing them to expand Medicaid. The case is viewed as a political stunt by some and a valid legal move by others.
There are some more novel stances as well. In Nevada, the attorney general declined to join the suit based on its limited chance of success. But Catherine Cortez Masto also argues that sitting on the sidelines still allows the state to freeload, in essence, off the efforts of those who may succeed.
She cited that legal challenge saying it would be “disingenuous for our state to make the argument that Congress does not have the authority to regulate health care” after using the legal tools Congress passed to protect Nevadans from the potential impact of that merger.
“In my professional judgment, joining the litigation filed by 14 other states, as you have suggested, is not warranted by existing law at this time,” Masto wrote.
She also pointed out that joining the lawsuit would cost the state a significant amount of money. By not joining the suit, she said, “Nevada can ride for free at this time by allowing other states to foot the bill.”
And you’ve got to give an “A” for effort to Oregon’s attorney general, whose legal strategy, if you can call it that, is one of supporting reform. It’s a slightly more plucky stance than that of California Attorney General Jerry Brown, who appears to be staying out of the fray.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Attorney General John Kroger announced Wednesday that Oregon will be the first state to take legal action in court to defend the bill.
“The health care reform cases present some of the most important Constitutional issues facing this generation,” Kroger said in a statement. “Opponents of the bill seek to turn back the Constitutional clock 100 years, returning to a time when the United States Supreme Court routinely struck down legislation designed to protect the health, safety and well-being of the American people. As an attorney general and law professor, I think it is critical that the courts hear not just from the opponents of the health care legislation, but from those states that believe it is constitutional.”
Kroger, who is the first attorney general to announce he will defend the bill, said he is asking “attorneys general in other states to work together to develop a successful legal strategy.”
Finally, I’d like to take a break from informing and ask a question. Has the California law requiring drivers to carry insurance ever been challenged? It seems like a congruous concept to that of requiring a patient to carry health insurance. It's a bit off, though, as we'd nearly all have to carry health insurance, but we don't all have to drive a car.
Alas, feel free to weigh in and comment below.