Kansas' attorney general said Friday he won't join colleagues in other states in challenging the new federal health care law because he believes their lawsuit has little chance of success.
Democratic Attorney General Steve Six's announcement drew immediate criticism. Many Republicans see the new law as an attack on individual liberties because it requires most Americans to buy health insurance starting in 2014. One legislator noted that Six was appointed by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, now U.S. secretary of health and human services.
The Republican-controlled Legislature still could order Six to challenge the law, and a resolution requiring a challenge has been introduced in the House. Also, Six's decision is likely to be an issue as he runs for election this year.
But Six said the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government broad powers to regulate interstate commerce. He also dismissed arguments that the law is unconstitutional because of its changes in Medicaid. Finally, he said, there's no need for Kansas to challenge the law because other states already are.
"Our review did not reveal any constitutional defects, and thus it would not be legally or fiscally responsible to pursue this litigation," Six said in a statement. "I will continue to make decisions based on the law, not in response to political pressure."
Thirteen states, led by Florida, filed a federal lawsuit moments after President Barack Obama signed the health care legislation into law last month. The states claim the health insurance mandate is unconstitutional and the Medicaid changes violate states' sovereignty.
Virginia has filed its own suit, attacking the federal law over the health insurance mandate. Virginia enacted a law this year to prevent that state from imposing a health insurance mandate.
U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Kansas Republican who'd urged Six to get involved, called his decision "extremely disappointing" and "a break from our state's storied history founded in personal responsibility and individual liberty."
Sebelius is a defendant in both lawsuits. She appointed Six attorney general in January 2008 after Six's predecessor was forced to resign because of a sex scandal. She joined the Cabinet in Washington in April 2009.
"There is a clear conflict of interest to me," said state Rep. Aaron Jack, an Andover Republican.
Jack and 21 other Republicans in the Kansas House are sponsoring the resolution requiring Six to file a legal challenge. A 1975 state law allows one chamber to direct the attorney general to challenge the constitutionality of a state or federal statute.
"We have unelected leaders in the executive branch that want Kansas to sit on the sidelines," Jack said. "That's a shame, because this is the seminal constitutional event of our generation."
Some GOP legislators want to amend the state constitution to prohibit Kansas from requiring individuals or businesses to buy health insurance. It's designed to block implementation of the federal law in Kansas and put the state in a better legal position for a challenge.
State Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican who advocates such an amendment, said Six's refusal to challenge the mandate smacks of politics.
"For the federal government to take this step -- it is an exceptional violation of individual liberties," she said.
Six has the backing of Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson, who was elevated from lieutenant governor to governor when Sebelius left for Washington.
"Governor Parkinson supports Attorney General Six's analysis and appreciates that he made this decision based on a sound legal analysis and not the politics of the moment," Parkinson spokesman Seth Bundy said.