Pawlenty seeks to add voice to health care suit

  • Star Tribune
  • November 11, 2010 - 8:54 PM

Gov. Tim Pawlenty added another weapon Thursday to his fight against the federal health care overhaul -- the legal system.

The outgoing Republican governor, who has barred state officials in Minnesota from applying for most grants from what he calls "Obamacare," asked a federal judge to allow him to file a friend of the court brief in the long-running Florida lawsuit against the health care measure.

Pawlenty filed the motion along with the governor of Rhode Island in an attempt to support the suit filed by Florida within days of the health care bill's signing last March.

The move puts Pawlenty, a possible 2012 presidential contender, in solid GOP company.

More than 19 states' attorneys general have already joined the suit, and U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said that he and other GOP lawmakers hope to file a joint friend of the court brief as well.

"Obamacare represents an unconstitutional power grab by the federal government," Pawlenty said in a news release. "That needs to be stopped."

The legal motion he filed is a bit more nuanced, however. It says the federal health care act violates "the requirement that statutes be clear and unambiguous in what they require of states." The brief also challenges the act because it does not allow states to make "a clear and informed choice between participation and non-participation."

The attorney who filed the motion on Pawlenty's behalf said it is not clear whether the governors will be allowed to file further briefs.

Hans Bader, who filed the Pawlenty motion, said the U.S. District judge presiding over the case is "skeptical of amicus briefs" and for several months told all interested in parties to hold off on similar motions. Last week, the judge opened the window to those requests for a limited period.

But, said Bader, "he didn't promise he would let them in" He added that, "my guess is that he ends up rejecting some amicus briefs."

Bader, who works at a conservative, pro-small government think tank in Washington, D.C., filed the motion pro bono.

Pawlenty's legal move was in his own individual capacity as governor, and not on behalf of the state of Minnesota.

This spring, the governor had asked DFL state Attorney General Lori Swanson to join the suit on behalf of the state but she refused, saying it was "not warranted." Swanson, however, did give him leave to pursue legal action on his own.

The legal maneuver is far from Pawlenty's only stand against the federal health care changes. Earlier this fall, he signed an executive order to "stop Minnesota's participation in projects that are laying the groundwork for a federally controlled health care system," with some exceptions. Only Alaska has imposed similar restrictions on health care cash.

Since then, Pawlenty has turned away an opportunity for a federal grant to study so-called health insurance exchanges, a key facet of the health care law. Three of the state's medical groups then applied for the grant on their own.

Pawlenty is not backing down in his opposition to the federal health care law.

"I think Obamacare is one of the worst pieces of legislation passed in the modern history of the country," Pawlenty said last week on CNN. He went on to say that repealing it would be a major part of his platform should he run for president.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • 651-292-0164

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