Led by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Tennessee Republicans began pressing their resolution Wednesday to urge the state attorney general to sue to block national health care reform, warning they might hire their own lawyer to take action if he refuses.
The Senate Judiciary Committee adopted the resolution 6-2 and sent it to the full Senate for almost-certain passage as early as Monday. The companion House resolution likely will come up for its first votes next week, legislators said.
At a news conference, Republican legislators said they believe the new health care law is unconstitutional, mainly because it mandates that all Americans buy insurance.
“If the federal government can start mandating that citizens buy a product from a private company, where does it end? So yes, it’s a dangerous precedent,” Ramsey said.
If Attorney General Bob Cooper refuses, Ramsey said the Republican-run legislature could consider hiring a special counsel to join 16 other states that already have filed suit.
“We’re taking it a step at a time, to be honest,” the Senate speaker said. “First, you urge him to do that. … If he refuses, then you look at the next step. I don’t know what that’ll be right now. But I think we would have the power to hire outside counsel if it came to that point.”
The states already suing charge that the law exceeds Congress’ powers to regulate commerce, violates 10th Amendment protections of state sovereignty, and imposes an unconstitutional direct tax. Cooper is reviewing whether to join that lawsuit, according to his spokeswoman, Sharon Curtis-Flair.
But Tuesday, he signaled his possible reluctance to do so in an advisory opinion on legislation that purports to nullify the national law. That legislation, the so-called Health Freedom Act, likely would be ruled a violation of the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which holds that federal law supersedes those of the states, Cooper said inhis opinion.
Republican senators also are pushing a proposed state constitutional amendment to require the popular election of the attorney general, who now is appointed by the Supreme Court. The Senate adopted the resolution two years ago, and the Senate Judiciary Committee passed it again Tuesday, but it has failed to advance in the House.
Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, said Cooper’s advisory opinion on the Health Freedom Act shows the need to change the way Tennessee picks its attorney general.
“We need to popularly elect our attorney general as all of the other states do so that he’s not beholden to anybody except the people of the state of Tennessee,” Beavers said. “I think he should defend the people of the state of Tennessee. There are a lot of questions about the constitutionality of the new health care.”
At Wednesday's Judiciary Committee meeting, only Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, spoke out against the resolution urging Cooper to sue.
“Congress passed this legitimately by a majority vote, and the majority of the people in the United States are happy about this,” she said. “I think it’s a sad state that there are some people who are unhappy about this legislation, and they are taking it upon themselves to speak for the entire state of Tennessee.”