Health care is kind of a touchy subject these days.

Even as Democrats in Congress lean at the goal line, ready to enact the bill that has dominated all debate for the better part of two years, Republicans have still not given up. While many Republican lawmakers have threatened to repeal the legislation — just as soon as they take back both houses in November — a more interesting challenge has arisen in the here and now.

As The New York Times reported Saturday, the attorneys general of at least 13 states have filed or joined suits challenging in federal court the constitutionality of Congress’s health care bill. It’s nothing new for attorneys general to file suit or intervene on behalf of their states to challenge a federal law when they deem such a challenge valid and in the best interest of the people of the state. But the situation can get quite complicated when politics enter the equation.

And that’s exactly what we have here in Michigan. Republican Attorney General Mike Cox has joined the challenge of the health care bill in federal court — over the vehement objections of Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who has in turn offered to join U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in defending the bill against the challenge by the states.

The standoff between the Republican attorney general and the Democratic governor is awkward to say the least. However, both elected officers apparently have the authority under the Michigan Constitution of 1963 to act as they have chosen. The attorney general is the legal representative of the executive branch, but the state constitution does not subject the actions of that office to the governor’s approval. And the governor, as the chief executive of the state, is certainly not bound by the actions of the attorney general.

As it stands, the resources of the state of Michigan could flow to both sides of the lawsuit. In fact, that is the only solution if neither the attorney general nor the governor backs down. And what a wonderfully disastrous waste of resources that would be for a state that has teetered on the brink of economic oblivion for the better part of the decade.

Naturally, Cox’s challenge is not really about the law or the people as much as it is about politics. Given that the health care bill is all anyone has talked about for the better part of the past two years, fighting it is a golden ticket for Cox, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the gubernatorial election later this year. Challenging the evil Obama health care bill in court is going to be quite a notch on the belt in the Republican primary — and polls show Cox will need it.

It’s true, as Cox’s people have pointed out, that Granholm’s stance is about politics too, as she’s a strong candidate for an appointment to the federal bench or to Obama’s cabinet. But this is not nearly a fair comparison. While both Cox and Granholm may have political motivations, Cox’s stance is simply wrong — and his stubbornness is therefore an inexcusable disservice to Michigan.

The challenge Cox joined on behalf of the people of this state alleges that the president and Congress have overstepped their constitutional authorities in passing the health care bill. That claim is very, very wrong. Cox — an alumnus of the University’s distinguished Law School — certainly knows how wrong it is. He knows federal courts have routinely approved Congress’s exercise of its Article I power in situations just like this. The question isn’t really even open to debate anymore. Even the current U.S. Supreme Court would throw out this challenge to Congress’s authority as meritless — with a vitriolic, wandering dissent by Justice Clarence Thomas, of course.

Regardless of whether you support the health care bill, it’s absurd to claim that its passage constitutes an unconstitutional act by Congress. There was plenty of debate over the bill, and it passed. If we, as citizens, hate the bill, then we can elect new leaders who can work to repeal it. However, there is absolutely no ground for challenging the bill in court. Cox knows this, but he also knows Tea Party conservatives love those who fight Obama, and they know very little about such things as Congress’s Article I authority.

Ironically, in acting as he has, Cox has proven himself unworthy of the very trust he’s asking the people of this state to put in him as he campaigns for governor. At least we know that much.

Imran Syed can be reached at galad@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.