In radical change from Pruitt, Hunter avoids Obamacare case
Three years ago, with Scott Pruitt serving as attorney general, Oklahoma likely would have been a leader in the latest court battle over the Affordable Care Act.
Now, it is not even among the 20 states challenging the act in a lawsuit that is before a federal appeals court in Texas. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said his office was approached about joining Texas and 19 other states in the challenge but decided it “wasn’t appropriate for us to get involved.”
“We viewed it as more of a policy issue than anything else,” Hunter said in an interview.
“We try to stay out of policy unless it’s public safety.”
Hunter’s stance reflects a sea change from Pruitt, his predecessor, who found numerous policy issues that he felt required his zealous intervention.
Pruitt and a group of fellow Republican attorneys general developed a strategy for challenging the Affordable Care Act in numerous federal judicial jurisdictions. And Pruitt credited the Republican attorneys general for the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012 that made Medicaid expansion optional, rather than mandatory, for states under the Affordable Care Act.
Pruitt also challenged the Obama administration on environmental and immigration regulations. He and Nebraska’s attorney general sought permission from the U.S. Supreme Court to sue Colorado over its legalization of medical marijuana.
In media appearances, Pruitt claimed that he had created a “federalism unit” within the attorney general’s office.
Hunter cast doubt this week on whether there ever was such a unit.
“I know that that label was applied to that unit,” he said.
However, he said, it was actually the solicitor general unit, which has emphasized state’s rights cases but is involved in a range of civil matters before appellate courts.
Regarding the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act, Hunter, a former member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, said it was Congress’ job to make policy.
His office, he said, had to be “disinterested and objective to maintain trust.”
As a private citizen he objected to the Affordable Care Act when it was passed in 2010, he said.
“Congress, with Republican majorities in the House and Senate, worked on improving (the Affordable Care Act) and they weren’t able to come up with a solution,” he said.
Hunter, a Republican, was appointed attorney general in 2017 when Pruitt joined the Trump administration as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Hunter won election last year to a four-year term.