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Originally published Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 8:01 PM

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Gregoire seeks to counter suit challenging health-care

Gov. Chris Gregoire is joining three fellow Democratic governors in asking a federal judge to consider their opposition to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the nation's new health-care law.

Seattle Times political reporter

Gov. Chris Gregoire is joining three fellow Democratic governors in asking a federal judge to consider their opposition to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the nation's new health-care law.

The lawsuit filed in March by 13 state attorneys-general challenges the new law's requirements that everyone purchase health insurance and that states expand Medicaid coverage for the poor.

The decision of Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna to join the lawsuit infuriated Gregoire and other Democratic leaders, who argued Republican McKenna's position doesn't represent the state's interests.

Democratic governors Bill Ritter of Colorado, Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania found themselves in similar arguments with Republican attorneys-general in their states.

On Wednesday, they teamed up with Gregoire to seek permission to file a friend-of-the-court, or amicus, brief in a Florida federal court. They want to file the brief in support of the Obama administration's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

But it's not clear whether the governors will get their wish.

The judge presiding over the case recently said he would not accept amicus briefs on the government's motion.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson added that he wasn't likely to accept such briefs even at later stages in the lawsuit.

Gregoire and her fellow governors say they should be granted an exception.

Their motion filed Wednesday argues that as governors they are in a "unique position to respond to the plaintiffs' erroneous allegations" that the health-care law violates state sovereignty.

The motion argues the health-care law is constitutional because the federal government has the authority to regulate interstate commerce. The health-insurance crisis crosses state lines, they argue, when major trauma hospitals like Seattle's Harborview Medical Center have to deal with uninsured patients from nearby states.

In a news conference at a Seattle cupcake shop whose owner supports the health-care law, Gregoire said the court needs to consider the Republican attorneys-general do not represent their entire states.

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Gregoire said the law will benefit Washington by ending discriminatory insurance practices and help control costs by ensuring everyone pays into the insurance system. It also will give federal money to the state to pay for health insurance for the poor.

"We can offer the court certain perspectives that are not theoretical, but represent real-world experience," Gregoire said.

Attorneys from the Seattle law firm Schroeter, Goldmark & Bender and a Florida attorney are doing the legal work for the governors free of charge, Gregoire said.

McKenna has said his office's participation in the lawsuit also will not cost the state money. Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is taking the lead for plaintiffs.

McKenna released a statement Wednesday noting that 20 states have now joined the lawsuit, including 16 attorneys-general and four governors, because "health-care reform is too important to build on an unconstitutional foundation." The plaintiffs are all Republicans, except for Democratic Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.

In addition to the individual insurance requirement, McKenna argued the law's "massive expansion" of the Medicaid program "will unconstitutionally require states to spend billions more on this program at a time when state budgets are already in crisis."

A hearing on the government's motion to dismiss the health-care lawsuit is Sept. 14.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com

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