MUSKOGEE — Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt on Friday made good on his campaign promise to join the fight against the federal health care law.
Pruitt, a Republican, filed a lawsuit against the federal government designed to work in concert with a slew of lawsuits by other states also challenging the constitutionality of the nation's overhauled health care laws.
Oklahoma's lawsuit seeks to have parts of the health care law ruled unconstitutional in order to prevent the entire law from being enforced.
Pruitt said it includes strengthened arguments based on the federal government's responses to the other lawsuits.
Oklahoma is the 28th state to challenge the law, which Congress passed last year following decades of Democrat-led efforts to reform the nation's health care system.
Republicans have said the law goes too far by forcing Americans to buy health insurance or face a penalty, which they say is unconstitutional.
“Again, there is great clarity for me on the necessary and urgent need to exercise my responsibility to defend Oklahoma's Constitution against a federal law that requires our state's citizens to purchase a product or face penalties from the federal government,” Pruitt said in a news release Friday.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma.
Among its specific allegations is that the federal health care law violates a new part of the state constitution approved in November, when voters passed a state question that prevents Oklahomans from being forced to buy health insurance.
The lawsuit says as a result, the Oklahoma Constitution and federal health care law “are conflicting provisions that cannot coexist.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are named as defendants.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, praised Pruitt's decision to file the lawsuit.
“I am proud that Oklahoma can now be counted among the states standing up for constitutional rights and opposing a law that is harmful to both our economy and to the health of our citizens,” Fallin said in a statement.
Former Attorney General Drew Edmondson, a Democrat, last year decided against filing a lawsuit to challenge the law.
The same assistant attorneys general who last year advised Edmondson that a lawsuit challenging the law would not succeed worked on the lawsuit filed Friday.
“Scott Pruitt is the attorney general. This is his call,” Edmondson said Friday.
Edmondson last year said filing the lawsuit would be “an exercise in futility.”
The Democratic leader of the state Senate said challenging the law is not a wise use of state resources.
“But politically, it seems like a big chunk of the voters want it done,” Sen. Andrew Rice said. “Personally, I don't know why we would be challenging something that protects consumers.”
Rice, D-Oklahoma City, said he thinks the law has been mischaracterized by Republicans.
“The more people learn about it, the more they see it is a good thing,” Rice said.
Twenty-six states have joined Florida's legal challenge while Oklahoma and Virginia have filed their own challenges.
Pruitt's campaign for the attorney general's post last year centered on his opposition to the health care law and his promise to fight it in court.
Pruitt said Friday that the lawsuit is the result of strategic coordination with other states that have also filed lawsuits challenging the law.
In citing several arguments the federal government has made in other lawsuits challenging the law, Oklahoma's lawsuit reads more like a counter argument than an initial complaint.
“We have an advantage of learning from the arguments the federal government put forth” in the other lawsuits, Pruitt said.
Oklahoma's lawsuit alleges Congress acted unconstitutionally by invoking certain federal powers in order to write the new health care law.
At issue are the federal Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause, which Congress used as grounds to write key portions of the health care law.
The lawsuit alleges Congress inappropriately invoked the clauses, thus making the law unconstitutional.
Pruitt's decision to file the lawsuit in federal court in Oklahoma adds another circuit of the federal court system to the list of circuit courts already hearing arguments about the health care law.
Until Friday, no states under the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had filed their own lawsuit against the law.
Pruitt said earlier this month that states opposing the health care law want their lawsuits to wind up in as many circuit courts as possible in order to compel the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case against the law.
U.S. District Judge Ronald White in Muskogee has been assigned the case, Pruitt's spokeswoman said.
Pruitt said the attorney general's office will not hire outside attorneys to work on the lawsuit.
It will be nearly impossible to determine the state's labor cost to pay the assistant attorneys general handling the lawsuit because the attorney general's office does not track how many hours its attorneys spend on cases.
Pruitt — who according to court records has never argued a case in court as a lead attorney — practiced constitutional law, served as a state senator and owned a minor league baseball team before being elected attorney general.