Last week, Attorney General Tom Corbett joined 12 other Attorneys General in a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the recently passed health care bill. On Wednesday, I sent a letter, which was signed by about 70 of my Democratic colleagues in both the House and Senate, asking him to remove his name, and the services of his office from the lawsuit. I argued, among other things, that the health care provided funding for services that Pennsylvania is required to provide, and that if Mr. Corbett were successful, it would blow a hole in the state’s budget.
On Friday General Corbett wrote a response to my letter. In that response, the Attorney General indicates that he finds the health care bill, and specifically the individual mandate to purchase insurance, to be a
violation of the 10th Amendment. I do not, in this editorial, question the sincerity of General Corbett’s beliefs. Further, although I strongly disagree with the merits of General Corbett’s constitutional assertions, my purpose is not to debate the matter herein. I instead argue that whatever the merits of Mr. Corbett’s views and however sincerely held, it is simply inappropriate for the AG to join this lawsuit.
Each year there are scores, if not hundreds of lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of federal statutes and regulations. Recent examples include challenges to the Patriot Act, the Clean Air Act and the
McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. Certainly, any Attorney General who chose to review all of these challenges would find at least some that he agreed with.
Yet, Mr. Corbett has not spent his time and the resources of the state weighing in with his personal musings on the constitutionality of all the various federal statutes challenged. For example, Mr. Corbett served
during the entire second term of President Bush, but to my knowledge did not once join a constitutional challenge to any bill Mr. Bush signed into law. Yet now, in the midst of his own efforts to run for higher office, and against the backdrop of a national partisan political fight, he suddenly decides to start
inveighing against 10th Amendment violations?
Mr. Corbett, in recent budget hearings, actually asked for an increase in the AG’s budget. He claimed that he needed more resources to do the job the AG is supposed to do, which includes prosecuting crime, protecting consumers and defending Pennsylvania statutes against Constitutional Challenge. It is not to inject himself into national political debates or challenge federal statutes in court. If you go to Mr. Corbett’s Mission Statement on his website, you will see nothing about attacking the propriety of federal
Of the 12 Republican AGs who have filed this lawsuit, 5 (including Mr. Corbett) are running for higher office. After spending much of his time prosecuting people for allegedly campaigning with state resources, one
might think that Mr. Corbett would be hyper-vigilant about the appearance of doing the same himself. However, even if unintended, a troublesome appearance is created by Mr. Corbett joining a partisan lawsuit which clearly falls outside of his job description.
At the very least Mr. Corbett should have acted in concert with the other branches of Pennsylvania’s government rather than unilaterally committing Pennsylvania resources to an expensive lawsuit, which could cost Pennsylvania billions of dollars. It is the legislature and the governor who will have to pick up the pieces if Mr. Corbett’s lawsuit is successful. Further, the majority of the PA Congressional delegation and both US Senators supported the health care bill, as does Governor Rendell, who must actually implement the bill, suggesting that Mr. Corbett is both isolated in his views and indifferent to the consequences of his actions.
Another way of stating this argument about Mr. Corbett’s decision to speak for Pennsylvania in this litigation is “who asked him?” Mr. Corbett is flaunting the will of the clear majority of the elected officials charged with resolving the political questions and policy implications of this new law.
All of this is unnecessary. This lawsuit will proceed and the court’s decision will be binding on Pennsylvania with or without Mr. Corbett’s name on it, which begs the question of why he felt it necessary invest Pennsylvania resources in this endeavor. Mr. Corbett is using the tax dollars of people without health care to try to stop those same people from getting health insurance. He is doing so despite the fact that is involvement is irrelevant and well beyond his proper role as an elected official.
He should stop.