ATLANTA — Gov. Sonny Perdue is butting heads with the state’s top lawyer, threatening to “go it alone” and sue the federal government over a new federal health-care law.
Attorney General Thurbert Baker on Wednesday declined the Republican governor’s request to sue over the health-care law, arguing the state doesn’t have a “a viable legal claim.”
“I cannot in good conscience file a lawsuit against the United States that I believe has little or no chance of success and will undoubtedly consume significant state resources in a time of severe budgetary crisis,” Baker wrote in a letter to the governor. Baker is seeking the Democratic nomination to succeed Perdue.
But Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley fired back that the state could “go it alone” with an outside counsel.
“His refusal to participate doesn’t preclude us from going forward,” Brantley told reporters.
Late Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Senate Republicans urged Perdue to file a lawsuit, calling the federal health law “an unprecedented attack on our citizens’ liberty and our state’s sovereignty.”
Brantley said several lawyers have volunteered to handle the state’s lawsuit pro bono — removing the concerns about cost for the cash-strapped state.
He suggested politics might be behind Baker’s decision not to sue over Democratic-backed bill, the top domestic issue for President Obama.
“We know that he’s a candidate for governor, and so we know that there are multiple things that he’s looking at or thinking about and that’s fine,” Brantley said.
Baker dismissed that Wednesday, saying the decision was driven by the rule of law “not the politics of the moment.”
“This was not a very tough legal question,” Baker said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Perdue is barred by term limits from running again.
Attorneys general from 13 other states have filed a federal lawsuit arguing the federal law — which mandates that many Americans purchase health insurance — violates the Constitution.
Brantley said the state could join that legal challenge or file its own.
“We are weighing our options,” Brantley said.
Perdue had asked Baker to sue on behalf of the state.
He has repeatedly blasted the health reform law saying it would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars every year by expanding Medicaid rolls, forcing the state health insurance plan to cover the adult children of state workers up to age 26 and requiring the state to set up a health-care purchasing exchange.
House Minority Leader DuBose Porter suggested Wednesday that Perdue could need legislative approval to pursue a lawsuit without the OK of the state’s top lawyer.
But Brantley said the governor’s office didn’t think legislation was needed.
He said the state had hired outside counsel to pursue litigation over the state’s voter ID law and to pursue litigation related to water rights at Lake Lanier.
Former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman is leading Georgia’s water litigation for a hefty $855 an hour.