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TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm said Wednesday that Attorney General Mike Cox doesn't have legal authority to put Michigan on record as opposing the federal health care overhaul.
Cox joined a dozen other Republican state attorneys general in filing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the measure President Barack Obama signed into law Tuesday. Granholm, a Democrat and supporter of the health overhaul, said Cox had overstepped his bounds.
"His primary client as the attorney general is the executive branch of government," Granholm said in an interview following a public appearance in Traverse City. "And no one in the executive branch has authorized him to take this position."
She described Cox's action as "a political ploy" and noted he was running for the GOP nomination for governor.
In a letter to Cox released by the governor's office, Granholm said that under the Michigan Constitution, the governor's law enforcement authority is "superior to that of the attorney general" -- the office she held before her election as governor in 2002.
The letter ordered Cox to intervene in the Republican lawsuit on Michigan's behalf in support of the health care overhaul and "the important protections afforded to our state and its citizens by the new law."
The suit contends that Congress doesn't have the right to require people to get health coverage. It also says the federal government is violating the U.S. Constitution by forcing a mandate on the states without providing resources to pay for it.
Cox described the law as "an unprecedented overreach by Congress and the president."
Granholm said in the interview that if Cox wants to fight the law in court, he should retain outside counsel instead of using the resources of his office.
John Sellek, spokesman for Cox, said Granholm was "definitely right about one thing: Attorney General Cox couldn't disagree with her more about this legislation."
Sellek said Granholm's letter was delivered after business hours and none of the attorneys in his office had had time to analyze its claims. But he said Granholm "knows from her time as attorney general that our office is empowered by law to intervene in cases like this and will continue to do so."
"I know the governor has often been mentioned as a candidate for an Obama Cabinet position," Sellek added. "But that doesn't change the fact that the president and Congress have put a price on being an American citizen for the first time in our history."
Robert Sedler, a law professor at Wayne State University, said the governor and the attorney general both are constitutional officers elected by the voters and both represent the state.
"There's no easy answer" in their dispute over who speaks for Michigan on the health care law because the constitution appears to treat them as equals, he said.
The best solution would be for Cox to proceed with his suit and Granholm to file a motion to intervene in favor of the Obama administration's position, Sedler said.