Democrat in Missouri to Oppose Health Care Law
By A. G. SULZBERGER and KEVIN SACK
The filing of the court brief by Attorney General Chris Koster, a onetime Republican state legislator who switched to the Democratic Party in 2007, underscores the act’s political tenuousness in a critical Midwestern swing state.
Mr. Koster’s action followed months of pressure from state Republicans that he join attorneys general from other states who are challenging the constitutionality of the law.
Rather than join the litigation, however, Mr. Koster chose to file a “friend of the court” brief, or legal argument, in the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, which is reviewing one of five challenges to the act that have moved into the midlevel appellate courts.
Three lower court judges have upheld the law, while two have ruled that its central provision — the requirement that most Americans obtain insurance — is unconstitutional.
The 11th Circuit is hearing a case filed in Pensacola, Fla., by Republican governors and attorneys general from 26 states. The federal district judge in that case, Roger Vinson, decreed that the entire health care act should be invalidated, but stayed his ruling until the Supreme Court settled the matter.
In Missouri, a ballot referendum aimed at nullifying the law was approved by nearly three to one last year, and the state legislature recently passed resolutions urging Mr. Koster to join legal challenges. The state’s lieutenant governor, a Republican, filed a lawsuit last year seeking to block the law.
In a letter sent to the Republican leaders of the state legislature announcing his decision to oppose the law, Mr. Koster acknowledged that the legislative resolutions, though nonbinding, were “impactful, as they give voice to the political will of Missourians.”
Although he supported expansion of health coverage, he wrote, his duty is “to the law, and not to a political outcome.”
Though Mr. Koster has been slow to weigh in, he did not mince words, arguing in the brief that Congress had overstepped its authority by mandating that individuals purchase health insurance, which he called “a substantial blow to federalism and personal freedom.”
“If Congress can force activity under the Commerce Clause, then it could force individuals to receive vaccinations or annual check-ups, undergo mammogram or prostate exams, or maintain a specific-body mass,” he wrote.
He asked that the mandate be stripped out of the law, and that the rest of it be allowed to remain in effect.
His central argument echoed those made by plaintiffs in a number of the lawsuits, but it was noteworthy coming from a Democrat. The only Democratic state official who has joined the litigation as a plaintiff, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell of Louisiana, switched to the Republican Party in February.
For Mr. Koster, who was elected in 2008, the decision to oppose his party on such a high-profile issue reflects the political challenges for Missouri Democrats in the coming election cycle.
Though this state has long been viewed as a political bellwether, the politics of the electorate have grown more conservative in recent years and President Obama narrowly lost the state.
Mr. Koster, who is up for re-election next year along with the state’s two top Democrats, Gov. Jay Nixon and Senator Claire McCaskill, has already faced questions about his political loyalties.
Known as a Republican moderate, he became a Democrat just months before announcing his candidacy for attorney general, succeeding despite criticism of the move from both parties, including being pinned with the nickname “Koster the Imposter.”