State's AG has authority to file legal challenge to health-care law

The issue isn't whether this law is good policy, but whether it is allowable under the Constitution.

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Rob McKenna, as the Washington's elected attorney general, has the authority to join a lawsuit on behalf of the state to challenge the constitutionality of the newly approved health-care reform law -- or any law for that matter.

All laws have to be constitutional. And our system of checks and balances allows those who are directly impacted by laws, whether approved by Congress, state legislatures or voters, to ask courts to determine if these laws are allowable under the federal Constitution or state constitutions.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, the state's attorney general for 12 years, knows that. Yet, the Democratic governor gave a verbal blistering to the Republican attorney general because he decided to join with 12 other attorneys general to challenge the health-care law approved by a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president.

"I don't know who he represents. He doesn't represent me," Gregoire told reporters Monday at a bill signing in Olympia. "I don't think he represents a million and a half Washingtonians that will be helped by this. I don't think he represents small business that will be helped by this. I don't think he represents Medicare people who will be helped by this."

The issue isn't -- or, at least, it shouldn't be -- whether this law is good policy (or even good politics), it is whether it is allowable under the Constitution.

McKenna was well within his authority to join this lawsuit on the state's behalf.

However, Gregoire was right to be critical of the attorney general for not consulting her and other top state officials before making this move. She said McKenna had a "duty" to do so. Maybe. But if not a duty, it is at least the courteous thing to do.

The health-care debate, inside and outside of Congress, has pretty much broken along party lines. Given that, it's hardly a surprise that the attorneys general who joined together on this lawsuit are Republicans.

Nevertheless, the concerns expressed by McKenna and others would seem to be reasonable enough to at least merit review.

"I believe this new federal health care measure unconstitutionally imposes new requirements on our state and on its citizens" McKenna said in a prepared statement. "... I'm concerned that the measure unconstitutionally requires all Washingtonians to purchase health insurance and places an extraordinary burden on our state budget by requiring Washington to expand its Medicaid eligibility standards in violation of our state's rights guaranteed under the 10th amendment."

Gregoire, as governor, said she plans to file a legal brief opposing McKenna's actions. She, like McKenna, was elected to represent the people and certainly has the authority to do so.

Ultimately, it will be up to voters at the next election to determine whether they approve of the stands taken by Gregoire and McKenna.

In the meantime, the matter will now go to the courts to determine the constitutionality of the new health-care law. That's as it should be.

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