Dozens of women filed a lawsuit Thursday against Attorney General Rob McKenna, alleging that his participation in legal action seeking to overturn the new federal health care law threatens access to comprehensive coverage for women.
The politically charged lawsuit is seeking a ruling that McKenna violated his ethical duties by asking the Supreme Court to invalidate protections for women’s health care. It claims that his actions go against the wishes of his clients, the residents of Washington state.
As of Thursday morning, 90 women had signed on as plaintiffs in the case.
McKenna, a GOP candidate for governor, joined other GOP attorneys general in the federal health care lawsuit more than a year ago. He objected to a provision that required people to buy private health insurance or face a fine.
He said that mandate was unconstitutional, though he supported other parts of the federal overhaul. The new lawsuit targets his efforts to overturn the whole law – not just the part he disagrees with.
The women say they want to force McKenna to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to maintain women’s health care requirements, no matter how justices rule on the individual mandate.
McKenna’s campaign manager, Randy Pepple, said the lawsuit was a frivolous attempt to change topics in the gubernatorial campaign from former congressman Jay Inslee’s “lack of solutions for solving the problems facing Washington state.”
The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, noted that McKenna chose to follow the action of other states rather than his own statements and the wishes of his clients. Lawyers for the plaintiffs from the public interest law firm of Smith & Lowney PLLC say McKenna’s actions are not in the best interest of Washington state and its residents, which he is obligated by law to represent.
McKenna “has greater latitude than many attorneys to determine what he believes to be in the best interests of the State’s citizens. However, that latitude does not include misinforming the citizens of the nature of his actions, arguments and litigation engages on their behalf. The duties of candor and avoiding conflicts of interest apply to all lawyers, including the Attorney General,” the lawsuit said.
The lawyers from Smith & Lowney said at a news conference that their timing – in the middle of the campaign season and well into the health care debate in Washington, D.C. – is not politically motivated. Attorney Knoll Lowney said there’s no way of knowing when the Supreme Court will rule and that his clients decided to pursue the case around the second anniversary of the health care law’s passage as McKenna’s actions became clearer.
“The governor’s race is so insignificant compared to the stakes in the U.S. Supreme Court,” Lowney said. Although many expect the Supreme Court to rule in the near future, Lowney said this case could still affect the justices’ decision.
In a statement, the attorney general’s office said the lawsuit McKenna joined challenging the health care legislation was the best way to address concerns about the individual mandate.
“Attorney General McKenna was upholding his duty to defend the Constitutional rights of the citizens of Washington. This office is prepared to vigorously defend against this case on all fronts,” the statement said.
Two of the plaintiffs said McKenna’s actions made them worried about their future and that the federal health care law has already helped them.
Melissa Mackey, 38, said she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer nine months after being laid off from her job. If the Seattle woman hadn’t been able to keep her insurance from her previous employer, if she hadn’t been available for preventative care and if she had been affected by a cap on her insurance benefits, she may not have lived to speak at the news conference.
Mackey appeared offended by the suggestion that the timing of the lawsuit was politically motivated.
“I didn’t get cancer for political reasons,” said Mackey, who is still receiving treatment. “I just haven’t done 20 months of treatment for a governor’s race. I want to be treated fairly, and I want to be taken care of and that’s what I deserve. I don’t care who’s governor.”