Indiana AG joins health care lawsuit
April 07, 2010
Now that health insurance reform has become the law of the land, attorneys general in several states have decided to file a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. On Monday, March 29, Indiana's attorney general, Greg Zoeller, joined 13 other states in the suit, saying that Congress does not have the power to force Americans to buy health insurance. But many legal experts caution that the lawsuit could be facing a major battle due to previous court rulings.
The lawsuit was filed jointly by 13 states immediately after President Barack Obama signed the health reform bill into law. Just days later, Zoeller announced that he would join in the lawsuit.
"There has been a great deal of public debate regarding this new federal program," Zoeller said in a press release. "While I personally share the grave concerns that have been expressed regarding this law, I believe it is in the best interests of all — even those who have supported the new law — to raise the constitutional questions to the United States Supreme Court. When the federal government imposes unprecedented legal obligations of this magnitude on state government, it is my obligation as attorney general to join and participate in challenging the constitutionality of the bill."
But many Democrats have accused Zoeller, a Republican, of playing politics with the new bill. The other 13 attorneys general who have joined in the suit include 12 Republicans and one Democrat.
"This is purely politics, nothing but," Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker told The Indianapolis Star on March 30. "The legal argument is weak; the political argument is weak. It's all based on false information, and the opponents of this couldn't stop it, so they're grasping at straws and this is the final straw to grasp."
Parker went on to say the suit was a waste of taxpayer dollars.
But Zoeller said U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar requested him to review the health care bill that passed the U.S. Senate on Dec. 24 and report back to him — as required under a state law — as to the bill's constitutionality and its impact on the state of Indiana.
"In that 55-page report, I wrote that the bill raised serious constitutional questions regarding congressional authority to enact both the individual mandate to purchase health insurance and the new demands on the sovereign states," Zoeller said. "There are advantages to joining in with other states in raising the constitutional issues arising from the new claim of federal authority over individuals and states. Our goal by joining is ultimately to bring the constitutional questions to the United States Supreme Court for review."
Gov. Mitch Daniels told The Star that he had encouraged Zoeller to take part in the suit, even though Daniels was skeptical of its chances for success. But Zoeller said he made the decision based on the case's merits and independent from any political input.
In the report and legal analysis prepared for Lugar on the Senate version of the bill, Zoeller said he found that the individual mandate requiring everyone to buy health insurance or face a penalty would be unprecedented.
"Never before has the federal government required Americans to purchase any good or service as a condition of U.S. residency," Zoeller stated.
Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democrat, refused to take part in the suit, claiming that "it was all political posturing."
Arkansas, which has also refused to join in the suit, has tried a lawsuit against the federal government in the past and lost.
"They tried it here in Arkansas in '57 and it didn't work," Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, told The Washington Post recently. "I think you have to tell the people the truth. And if I understand the law, the truth is the federal government can't be defied by the state governments."
In 1957, an Arkansas governor rejected federal authority and tried to prevent nine black students from attending all-white Little Rock Central High School. U.S. soldiers were sent in to protect the students, who made history during a struggle over racism and federal power.
"The Little Rock crisis is still a present memory," University of Alabama legal historian Tony Freyer told The Post. "It still has a long shadow."
During the crisis, Republic President Dwight D. Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and sent soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division to protect the "Little Rock Nine." He told the nation that the Supreme Court's ruling was "the law of the land." When he signed the health care bill into law, Obama said the new bill is the "law of the land."
When Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat, explained why Arkansas would not join in the lawsuit, he used the same phrase.
"The law of the land does, in fact, come from our elected officials in Washington," McDaniel said. "A state deciding that it wants to singularly defy federal law simply because the citizens may not like it, that's not the way the democratic process works.
"That's not the way the Constitution is set up."