The bill purports to nullify federal health care reform and orders the state attorney general to defend any proud Tennessean who refuses to obey the law's mandate to buy insurance. But guess what? Attorney General Bob Cooper, in a just-released opinion, states the Health Freedom Act is unconstitutional. Federal law trumps state law, Cooper explains, because of this little thing called the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution. Here's the key sentence in the opinion, which probably was one of the easiest the AG's office ever wrote:
The Supremacy Clause provides that the laws of the United States "shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding," U.S. Const. art. 6, cl. 2.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, urged the committee to ignore all this. Who cares if this legislation is pointless?
"The AG is one man’s opinion. ... This is something we can allow the courts to settle. ... Any bill that we pass can be challenged on its constitutionality and this one very well may be at some point, but it would be my intention to go forward with this bill."
But then that wily old Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh started reading the AG's opinion out loud in a kind of filibuster, and the bill's supporters eventually surrendered and voted to adjourn.
Earlier, in a hilarious bit of political theater, Naifeh tried to amend the bill to say that anyone who chooses not to obey the new federal health care law also loses any right to participate in any other federal health care program, including Medicare. That might have given second thoughts to some of the tea party geezers who have clogged the Legislative Plaza's hallways lately in support of this bill.
"If they don’t want the government fooling around with them, this ensures that the government is not going to fool around with them," Naifeh said before the committee tabled his amendment.
Pith predicts tea party protesters will return en masse to the Capitol to boo, jeer and scream "you lie!" at the attorney general's office building when the bill comes back before the committee next week.