the opposition

Cuccinelli sues federal government to stop health-care reform law

(2009 Photo By Steve Helber/Associated Press)
By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

RICHMOND -- Not five minutes after President Obama signed health-care legislation into law Tuesday, top staff members for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II made their way out of his office, court papers in hand and TV cameras in pursuit, and headed to Richmond's federal courthouse to sue to stop the measure.

Thirteen other state attorneys general also sought to stop the health-care law Tuesday, jointly suing in Florida. But Cuccinelli (R) went his own way, arguing that a Virginia law enacted this month that prohibits the government from requiring people to buy health insurance creates an "immediate, actual controversy" between state and federal law that gives the state unique standing on which to sue.

The move was classic Cuccinelli -- bold, defiant and in-your-face, an effort to use any means at his disposal to stop what he sees as a federal government gone wild. That approach has transformed him in just a few months from being a fairly obscure state senator into a national conservative folk hero -- a tea partier with conviction and, more importantly, power.

Since vowing last week to sue to stop health-care reform, Cuccinelli has become a fixture on national cable TV news shows. A conservative blog posted a cartoon of his head atop Superman's body, with the caption: "You don't tug on Superman's cape . . . and you don't mess around with Ken." His Facebook page is full of messages of support from across the country, some next to the yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag, which Cuccinelli has embraced -- one sits next to the Virginia flag in his office.

To his supporters, Cuccinelli is the necessary antidote to Obama, determined to put government back where he thinks it belongs and follow the letter of the law, without regard to political consequences.

"People are tired of the middle-of-the-road, wishy-washy political talk. . . . They want people who will shoot straight and do what they say they will. And that's Ken," said Jamie Radtke, chairman of the Federation of Virginia Tea Party Patriots. "He was a tea party person before there was a tea party," she said.

But as the fervency and number of Cuccinelli's supporters have grown, so has the vigor of his detractors, who are convinced that he is an ideologue using his office to further a political agenda and that he is interested only in representing those who share his views.

"He thinks he's the attorney general for Fox News," said Paul Goldman, a Richmond lawyer and former head of the Virginia Democratic Party. "He wants to be Glenn Beck's favorite attorney general, and he's moving right on up there."

Before filing his lawsuit Tuesday, Cuccinelli had filed briefs to challenge the science of global warming and the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate greenhouse gases. This month, he wrote letters to every public college in Virginia to say that they could not adopt nondiscrimination policies that protect gays without authority from the General Assembly.

About 50 students and alumni associated with campus gay rights groups protested Cuccinelli's appearance Tuesday evening at George Mason University's law school, of which he is an alumnus, holding signs reading "Cuccinelli: Bad for Virginia" and "Virginia Is for All Lovers."

In his suit to stop the health-care law, Cuccinelli says the legislation's requirement that individuals buy health insurance exceeds the federal government's power to regulate interstate commerce under the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit filed by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) and joined by other attorneys general presents a different argument. It says the new law violates the 10th Amendment by forcing states to carry out its provisions while not reimbursing them for the costs.

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