AG Caldwell back in the national spotlight
BATON ROUGE, La. (Legal Newsline)-Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell is back in the national spotlight for the second time this year, capturing headlines across the nation.
Caldwell is garnering his latest bevy of headlines over his decision to join a group of Republicans in suing the federal government over elements of the national health care overhaul signed into law last week.
The first-term attorney general is the only Democrat to sue over a provision that will require Americans to have health insurance or face penalties, beginning in 2014. The Democratic-drafted legislation will also add millions of people to Medicaid rolls, which will cost cash-strapped states.
In a statement explaining his decision to sign onto the Florida attorney general's lawsuit, Caldwell said the federal law will "penalize and punish citizens" for not having mandated health insurance.
"This is new territory that has not been tested in the courts, which is where such matters are resolved," Caldwell said. He added that the law will cost the Bayou State approximately $350 million a year to implement.
Caldwell made clear that he is suing because he is "bound" by his oath of office to pursue a governor's request for legal assistance so long as it has merit. In this case, Caldwell's assistance was sought by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal.
"As attorney general, I will not engage in political opportunism or partisan politics nor file any claim that does not have substantial legal merit," he said.
Caldwell has taken political heat from Democrats, including his state's Legislative Black Caucus, over his joining forces with more than a dozen Republican attorneys general to take on the Obama administration. But one thing that Caldwell is not afraid of -- and perhaps relishes -- is a good political fight.
In early February, Caldwell went toe-to-toe with the National Football League over its claims of copyright infringement of the New Orleans Saints football team's popular rallying cry.
Caldwell's jumping into the middle of the dispute won him national headlines as his team headed to Super Bowl XLIV, where they would play -- and ultimately beat -- the Indianapolis Colts at Miami's Sun Life Stadium.
Shortly after a teleconference with NFL officials about a week before the big game, a gleeful Caldwell told Legal Newsline that the National Football League was no longer claiming exclusive rights to the "Who Dat" rallying cry and the fleur-de-lis symbol.
"This one just got a little out of hand," he said. "We appear to be in perfect agreement."
His victory was covered by major media outlets, including the New York Times, USA Today and Reuters.
The National Football League had sent cease-and-desist letters to some T-shirt makers, demanding that they stop selling items bearing the French symbol or the Saints' popular cheer.
Just as in the national health care dispute, Caldwell jumped into the "Who Dat" kerfuffle at Jindal's request.
Perhaps Caldwell's scrappy spirit is best exhibited in how he became Louisiana attorney general, unseating fellow Democrat Charles Foti Jr.
Following a heated race, Caldwell, a longtime former district attorney from Tallulah, La., was elected with more than 67 percent of the vote.
He unseated Foti amid widespread criticism of the criminal prosecutions of New Orleans physician Dr. Anna Pou and nurses at Memorial Medical Center for Hurricane Katrina-related deaths of elderly patients.
The case that was ultimately thrown out of court, after a grand jury decided not to indict Pou on second degree murder charges.
Foti was also criticized for waiting more than two years to file civil suits against insurance companies, including Allstate and State Farm, after consumers complained insurers were not paying their claims after the Aug. 29, 2005, storm.
In an interview three months after taking office in January 2008, Caldwell told Legal Newsline there is a guiding principle in his office: "We're interested in doing the right thing."
Republicans have said Caldwell is doing just that by challenging the health care mandate.
"This health care bill is a clear expansion of federal power that violates the U.S. Constitution, and we appreciate the attorney general's willingness to stand up for the rights of our people," Jindal said.
In addition to Louisiana and Florida, attorneys general in the suit are those from South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Idaho, South Dakota and Washington. Virginia's attorney general filed a separate lawsuit in his state Tuesday.
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