Pawlenty Believed Health Reform Was Constitutional Before He Didn’t

On Tuesday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) brushed aside his attorney general’s opinion that the health law does not violate the tenth amendment, and announced that he would join a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of reform. “The federal government is now requiring citizens under penalty of a fine to buy a good or a service, and we think that’s an unprecedented overreach by the federal government into the lives of individual citizens,” he said.

But as Newsweek’s Andrew Romano points out, Pawlenty believed that “federal mandates within the boundaries of the law” as recently as last year. In October 2009, during an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Pawlenty seemed to agree with his attorney general when he claimed that the courts have said that the federal government can supersede the power of the states to regulate commerce:

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Governor Pawlenty, let me begin with you, because after the speech on Thursday night, the president says he’s going to get this done. After the speech on Thursday night, you suggested perhaps invoking the Tenth Amendment, which reserves powers to the states, if indeed this does pass. What exactly are you saying? There is a movement to actually nullify health care if it passes?

PAWLENTY: Well, George, in the legal sense, I think the courts have addressed these Tenth Amendment issues, but more in the political sense, in the common sense arena, we need to have a clear understanding of what the federal government does well and what should be reserved to the states. […]

STEPHANOPOULOS: So just to be clear, are you suggesting that any parts of the plan as the president has laid it out are unconstitutional?

PAWLENTY: Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a legal issue. I was raising it as much as a practical matter, that there are some things that the federal government shouldn’t do, doesn’t do well, and should leave to the states.

Watch it:

Romano observes that Pawlenty’s decision to sue the federal government is part of a broader effort to align himself with the Tea Party movement ahead of the Republican presidential primaries. As Stephanopoulos noted, Pawlenty has flirted with challenging the constitutionality of reform since September. “Depending on what the federal government comes out with here, asserting the 10th Amendment might be viable option, but we don’t know the details,” the governor speculated on a conference call with right-wing activists.


In fact, Pawlenty is now so eager to appeal to the conservative base, he attended yesterday’s rally with Sarah Palin and Gov. Michele Bachman (R-MN) and “bought the domain name and then redirected traffic to his own site.”