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Koster asks U.S. Supreme Court to toss out health insurance mandate

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 14, 2012 - Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has just announced that he has submitted two "amicus briefs" in the cases now before the U.S. Supreme Court that challenge the constitutionality of the federal health-insurance law, most notably the mandate that most Americans buy insurance.

Koster's briefs, filed last week, reflect his earlier stance in one of the cases. He contends that the mandate is unconstitutional but also believes "the rest of the law should be allowed to stand."

Koster, a Democrat (and former Republican), said his briefs will set Missouri apart as the only one taking such a split stand among 37 states filing briefs in the case. Most of those states want the whole law tossed out, while others back the law.

"This has been a challenging decision but ultimately one that must be decided on the law alone," Koster said in a statement. "I do not believe the Commerce Clause can be used by Congress to force consumers into a market unwillingly."

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling later this year, with the decision likely to become a major political issue in the presidential contest.

Koster's stance will likely win him some praise in the Missouri Capitol, where Republican legislative leaders have been working on ways to highlight their opposition to the federal mandates.

Their opposition includes an effort to block the setting up of a state health-insurance exchange aimed at allowing individuals to purchase insurance at group rates. Koster hasn't said much publicly on that subject, but his legal stance backing the rest of the federal law indicates that he supports the Obama administration on that issue. 

UPDATE: The Missouri Republican Party and his only announced GOP rival, St. Louis lawyer Ed Martin, swiftly blasted Koster's action in a joint statement.

"There can be no question: Missourians have rejected Obamacare and Chris Koster needs to stop playing politics and oppose all aspects of Obamacare," said Martin. "To play games with legal briefs to win political points is the height of arrogance and beneath the office of attorney general."

Lloyd Smith, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, asserted, "Koster's stunt is way too little, way too late."

Smith then praised Martin as one "who will relentlessly fight for Missourians and against Obamacare."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.