Heller urges AG Masto to join fight against health care reform

CARSON CITY -- Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., joined Gov. Jim Gibbons on Tuesday in urging the state attorney general to sue the federal government over health reform, while one GOP U.S. Senate hopeful announced an effort to fight the law with a ballot initiative.

In a letter to Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, Heller echoed concerns that the bill will create unfunded mandates and questioned the constitutionality of requiring everyone to obtain health insurance.

"A law is not simply justified by its intentions. Congress must honor states' rights and the equality of each citizen," Heller wrote.

Immediately after the president signed the bill Tuesday, attorneys general of at least 13 states filed suit to block its implementation.

Gibbons renewed his call for Masto, who is a Democrat, to sue the federal government, and said his administration would act on its own if she declines.

Attorney general spokeswoman Edie Cartwright said, "The office will wait until we see what is in the reconciliation bill when we are reviewing all the legislation for legality and any constitutional violations."

The attorney general's office cites Nevada Revised Statute 228.110, which states, "The Attorney General and his duly appointed deputies shall be the legal advisers on all state matters arising in the Executive Department of the State Government."

However, Adriana Fralick, legal counsel for the governor's office, says there's room in the statute to allow Gibbons to proceed if he can find attorneys who would work the case for free.

Republican attorney general candidate Jacob Hafter has already told Gibbons he would do the state's legal work if Masto won't take the case.

Stopping the law from taking effect through the courts is a legal longshot, said Thomas McAffee, a constitutional law professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

McAffee says lawsuit advocates could make a logical argument based on the 10th amendment that provisions in the legislation encroach on states' rights.

But the health reform backers could lean on the commerce clause, which McAffee says the United States Supreme Court tends to interpret broadly as a mechanism for the federal government to justify national regulations.

For example, McAffee said defenders of the 1964 Civil Rights Act successfully used the commerce clause to keep that law in place.

"There is absolutely no question at all they can bring the lawsuit, but the odds of them winning it I would say are 10 to one" against, McAffee said.

Also on Tuesday, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Danny Tarkanian announced he was forming a committee to spearhead a ballot initiative for a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing health care freedom.

He said he will launch the effort today in Las Vegas, and hopes to collect more than 100,000 signatures by a June deadline to qualify for the November ballot.

Tarkanian is one of 12 Republicans hoping to win the GOP nomination in June and challenge Democratic Sen. Harry Reid -- a main architect of the health reform bill -- in the fall.

Review-Journal writer Benjamin Spillman contributed to this report.