Minnesota's Republican governor and Democratic attorney general are locked in a clash of wills over the national health reforms that have sparked political confrontations across the country.

On Monday, Attorney General Lori Swanson responded to Pawlenty's request that she consider having Minnesota join other states in suing the federal government. Swanson not only declined, but informed Pawlenty that she will file a friend-of-the-court brief defending the new health care law.

She pointed out in her letter to him that Pawlenty can always file his own friend-of-the-court brief to side with the states fighting the law.

That prompted this response from Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung: "Governor Pawlenty intends to participate in this litigation." He refused to comment on whether the governor would file a friend-of-the-court brief supporting lawsuits filed by other states, hire his own lawyer or participate in some other way. "We are going to consider our options," McClung said in an e-mail.

Republican attorneys general in 14 states have sued together or separately to overturn the law, arguing that Congress exceeded its authority in passing it.

In rejecting the call for Minnesota to file a lawsuit, Swanson, in a written opinion, said Congress has wide latitude to pass laws to tax and spend and to regulate interstate commerce.

"Health care -- which comprises over one-sixth of our country's economy -- substantially affects interstate commerce," Swanson said. "The United States government has been involved for years in many aspects of health care, including Medicare and Medicaid.

"The United States Supreme Court has shown great reluctance to overturn acts of Congress ... absent a clear constitutional violation."

Swanson said the legal fight over passage of the health care law was "unfortunately dividing along partisan lines."

"Democratic governors have questioned the motivations of the Republican Attorneys General who filed the lawsuit," she wrote. "Republican governors have questioned the motivations of the Democratic Attorneys General who have not filed lawsuits."

Swanson noted that after Pawlenty asked her to consider filing a suit on behalf of Minnesota, his office asked if he could file a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the Republican attorneys general.

"I leave it to your discretion as to filing [a friend-of-the-court] brief with the federal court in your individual capacity as governor to articulate your views about the legislation," she wrote.

Swanson said "there undoubtedly will be a multitude" of such briefs filed by governors, health maintenance organizations, members of Congress, insurance companies, health care advocates and others.

Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, a Republican, says he is contemplating filing his own lawsuit on behalf of Nevada after the Democratic attorney general there declined to file a lawsuit. Gibbons said he could use lawyers who donate their services.

Thirteen of the states challenging the law in court joined together in a lawsuit filed last month. Virginia filed its own lawsuit.

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210