Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation Thursday giving her the power to sue the federal government over the new health care legislation.
Brewer sought the authorization, contending Congress and President Obama overstepped their legal authority by requiring states to continue funding their own health care programs at current levels to qualify for expanded federal aid in 2014.
She also contends it is illegal for the federal government to mandate that individuals purchase health insurance for themselves or face a fine.
The law, which passed with only Republican votes, follows the announcement by Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat, that he would not join in a lawsuit filed by 13 other states challenging the federal law.
Goddard said there is no actual mandate on states but a financial carrot and stick: Fund the programs to get federal dollars; refuse to fund it and be responsible for the entire financial burden of providing health care for the poor.
And he said individuals do have a choice: buy insurance or pay a penalty.
Brewer, in a prepared statement, said Goddard is wrong. She called the new law "defining legislation ... that fortifies the state of Arizona's ability to defend the rights of Arizona citizens, rights that today under direct assault by the federal government through its oppressive and unfunded health care mandates.''
Legislative Democrats, in opposing the measure, sided with Goddard in concluding the litigation would be fruitless. They also chided Republicans for authorizing Brewer to spend money hiring outside lawyers when the state is struggling to balance its books.
Brewer said that may be a moot point.
"I have received an offer of no-cost legal counsel that I will be very seriously considering,'' she said in her prepared statement. But she did not identify the source.
The fight has taken on political overtones, as Goddard is a Democratic candidate for governor and will face off against Brewer if she survives the Republican primary.
"This is not the time for indecision or political gamesmanship by the Arizona attorney general,'' Brewer said in her statement. "This is the time for vigorously defending our constitutional rights.''
Goddard called the special session to pass the authorization a "shameless stunt to score political points when our state has many more urgent needs.''