A group of North Dakotans have filed a lawsuit against North Dakota's attorney general, requesting he withdraw the state from a suit that, if successful, will deem the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem joined 19 other states in February when, representing North Dakota, he signed onto a Texas effort seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act. The suit against Stenehjem, filed by Bismarck attorney Thomas Dickson and signed by five petitioners, argues the attorneys in the Texas case don't have the authority to represent North Dakotans.
"The North Dakota Supreme Court has consistently held that individuals may not bring litigation on behalf of the state of North Dakota unless they are the attorney general or one of his appointees," Dickson wrote. "By allowing individuals to purport to act on behalf of the State of North Dakota without appointing them, Respondent Stenehjem has failed to comply with perhaps the most important duty of his office, to appear for and represent the State of North Dakota."
Nor, Dickson wrote, does Stenehjem have the authority to practice in Texas.
"Wayne Stenehjem is not admitted to practice in the state of Texas or before the Northern District of Texas," said Dickson.
In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Dickson said Stenehjem "sold" North Dakota to Texas.
"The Texas litigation is asking to throw out the entire Affordable Care Act," Dickson continued.
"That means people with pre-existing conditions will no longer be protected."
Stenehjem's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Petitioners include Dr. Eric Johnson, a Grand Forks physician who signed on to the suit, he said, to confirm the medical information lawyers used was accurate.
"But I'm not a lawyer, I'm not the one filing this writ," Johnson said Wednesday.
Johnson said he signed on the suit as "private citizen" who believes the goal should be to "keep what's working and fix what's not."
"I think we need to do what we can to preserve guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions," Johnson said. "And I think that we need to do everything we can to preserve that part of the law."
In addition to treating patients with pre-existing conditions, Johnson said he has his own, Type 1 diabetes.
"Before the Affordable Care Act, you could have your insurance dropped for a pre-existing condition," Johnson said. "And that was always my fear, that, if for some reason or another I was unable to work, I would lose my coverage for my pre-existing conditions."
A second Grand Forks petitioner obtained insurance coverage through an Affordable Care Act provision enacted in 2013, according to the suit. Other petitioners include a Burleigh County physician, a Burleigh County mother caring for a minor with pre-existing conditions and a 20-year-old resident of Ward County benefiting from a provision that allows him to stay on his parents' insurance plan.
"I could've had a hundred petitioners on this case," Dickson said, "but I ran out of time. It was just too much paperwork. But seriously, there's a lot of interest and it's all on our side."
Dickson said his petition is in front of a judge now, and he's waiting for a hearing.