“This is not about politics. This is not about healthcare,” Pruitt said. “This is about one primary and fundamental thing: challenging the constitutionality of the federal healthcare legislation and this administration's position that they can force every Oklahoman to buy health insurance.”
One provision of the federal law, commonly dubbed the “individual mandate,” forces people to buy health insurance by 2014 or face tax penalties.
Pruitt said he determined Oklahoma should file its own separate lawsuit in part because of a state question approved by Oklahoma voters in November that prohibits forced participation in a healthcare system.
“Our constitution cannot coexist with the federal healthcare law. They are in conflict with one another,” Pruitt said. “The most logical way to defend our state constitution is in an Oklahoma federal court, not in another state.”
Current Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, a Democrat, has said he thought such a lawsuit would have little chance of success, cost taxpayers undue legal fees and be “largely an exercise in futility.” Edmondson decided not to seek a fifth term and ran unsuccessfully for governor.
But incoming Gov.-elect Mary Fallin, a Republican, praised Pruitt for standing up to Washington. She said the new federal law imposes a tremendous financial burden on the individual states.
“President Obama's healthcare 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,” Fallin said in a statement.
Pruitt did not provide a specific timeline for when he would sue or in which of Oklahoma's three federal district courts the suit would be filed. He said he did not plan to hire outside counsel to work on the lawsuit and that all of the work would be handled internally by the attorney general's staff.
“It will not cost the state of Oklahoma any additional resources,” he said.
A federal judge in Virginia last month struck down a key portion of the law, ruling the insurance requirement unconstitutional. Two other federal judges have upheld the insurance requirement.
Pruitt said filing a separate lawsuit in Oklahoma, as opposed to joining pending challenges in Virginia or Florida, would allow his attorneys to learn from the arguments made by the federal government in the other cases. He said if and when Oklahoma's case is appealed, it would add another circuit court considering arguments on the matter and increase the likelihood that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the case.
William Van Alstyne, a constitutional law professor at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, agreed.
“It surely increases the chances we'll get swift review from the Supreme Court,” Van Alstyne said. “We already have a conflict among the lower courts.”