Under shadow of 1957, Arkansas stays out of health-care fight

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As 14 states move forward with a lawsuit to block President Obama's new health-care law, calling it an unconstitutional infringement on state sovereignty, Arkansas is nowhere to be found.

"They tried it here in Arkansas in '57 and it didn't work," Gov. Mike Beebe (D) told reporters recently. "I think you got to tell people the truth. And if I understand the law, the truth is the federal government can't just be defied by the state governments."

There are memorials here to the events of 1957, when a previous Arkansas governor rejected federal authority and tried to prevent nine black students from attending all-white Little Rock Central High School. It took U.S. soldiers to protect the students, who made history during an epic struggle over racism and federal power.

To Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel (D), the lawsuits filed last week and a states'-rights measure proposed for the November ballot are unwelcome echoes. In the face of an implicit request from 33 Republican state legislators to enlist in the court fight, McDaniel remains unmoved.

"I would be abusing my office to bring a suit that I believe to be constitutionally frivolous," McDaniel said in a telephone interview. "State budgets are tight enough right now without bringing actions that are entirely driven by political motivation rather than sound legal justification."

The Arkansas experience in the 1950s rubbed the state raw and delivered a resounding defeat to segregationists, who made arguments similar to the ones launched by opponents of the Democratic-led health-care overhaul.

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