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AG says governor can’t force lawsuit over health care reform

Updated Wednesday, March 24, 2010 | 8:09 p.m.

Catherine Cortez Masto

Catherine Cortez Masto

Gov. Jim Gibbons

Gov. Jim Gibbons

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto on Wednesday pushed back against calls to sue the federal government over health care reform, saying she will evaluate the bill and won’t make a decision until completing a “thorough legal analysis.”

Gov. Jim Gibbons has called on Masto, a Democrat, to sue, saying state law gives him the authority to direct the attorney general to take legal action.

But Cortez Masto, in a response sent Wednesday, said that the state’s constitution created her office to be the state’s chief legal officer.

“I must be satisfied in my own professional judgment that the case has merit and should be filed,” she wrote. “I also have the responsibility to decide how and when litigation is conducted.”

She also wrote that she must follow professional standards. “As an attorney yourself,” she wrote Gibbons, “you understand an attorney must certify that any litigation is warranted by existing law or by non-frivolous argument and that any pleading presented to a court cannot be presented for any improper purpose.”

There has been intensifying Republican pressure on Cortez Masto to file the lawsuit.

U.S. Rep. Dean Heller, a Republican, on also raised concerns in a letter to Cortez Masto about the health care bill.

Cortez Masto responded to Heller’s letter, writing: “You fail to cite to any specific provisions... I mention this in the hopes that you can provide my office with the specific provisions in the new law that you are referencing in your letter.

Gibbons earlier in the day sent a letter to Cortez Masto calling for legal action. “There is no question that the recently passed health care act eviscerates the interests of the state,” the Republican governor wrote.

After President Barack Obama signed the nearly $1 trillion health care overhaul bill, attorneys general in 13 states filed suits to stop the move.

Gibbons and other Republican elected officials and political candidates argue the federal law usurps state’s rights, includes unfunded mandates that will cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars, and is unconstitutional because it requires people to obtain health insurance.

Administration officials have said the governor’s office would pursue legal action on its own if Cortez Masto declines.

However, Daniel Burns, a spokesman for Gibbons, reiterated the governor’s position that under Nevada statutes the attorney general must take legal action.

“The governor would be stunned and disappointed if the attorney general refuses to protect the freedoms and rights of Nevada citizens,” Burns said in an e-mail.

Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader and a key architect of the health care reform package, used the signing by Obama to try to boost fundraising and their conservative credentials.

GOP candidates Sue Lowden, John Chachas, Danny Tarkanian and Sharron Angle all condemned the bill. Tarkanian announced the formation of a petition drive for a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing what he says would be health care freedom.

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