All Eyes on Oklahoma

July 5, 2012

Last Tuesday, Congressman John Sullivan of Oklahoma lost his electoral primary to a man named Jim Bridestine.  Mr. Bridestine is now heavily favored to win in November and become Oklahoma’s newest Congressman.  2012 WLNR 13611290.

Mr. Sullivan’s primary loss is interesting (using a broad definition of the term ‘interesting’) because it arose from a healthcare related bill he sponsored last year.  The Healthcare Truth and Transparency Act of 2011 would have required persons performing medical services who are not doctors to disclose this fact in their advertisements.  See 2011 Cong US HR 451.  This led to large expenditures in the Oklahoma primary, with groups representing the interests of ophthalmologists (who must hold medical degrees) spending on behalf of Mr. Sullivan, while those who represented the interests of optometrists (who need not hold medical degrees) support Mr. Bridestine.  2012 WLNR 13471915.

When I read about this proxy fight between optometrists and ophthalmologists, it immediately brought to mind my first year ConLaw class, and the case of Williamson v. Lee Optical, 348 U.S. 483.  That case concerned a 1953 State statute that restricted the ability to write prescriptions for eyeglasses to ophthalmologists and optometrists.  The statute was challenged on Due Process grounds by opticians, who argued that it interfered unreasonably and arbitrarily with their ability to conduct business.  The Supreme Court rejected the challenge, and is still cited for the proposition that the Due Process clause does not protect an individual’s economic rights.

And what state was it that passed a law almost 60 years ago concerning who could and who could not write a prescription for corrective eyewear?  It was none other than the Sooner State, Oklahoma.

Research References

The Oklahoma law challenged in Williamson v. Lee Optical is still on the books, and has only been amended once since it was first passed59 Okl.St.Ann. § 942.

The Williamson case was cited as recently as last month see Garcia v. Kubosh, 2012 WL 2357328.  I was able to find this and other recent references to the case by viewing its citing references and sorting them by date in WestlawNext.

To see more news coverage on Congressman Sullivan’s surprise defeat, try the following search in ALLNEWS in Westlaw or WestlawNext: optometr! ophthalm! & oklahoma & john /3 sullivan

Originally, I tried looking for Congressman Sullivan’s bill using the search TE(ophthalm!) & TE(Sullivan) in CONG-BILLTXT.  While this found the found the “Vision Care for Kids Act of 2009,” co-sponsored by Mr. Sullivan, but not the bill at issue last Tuesday.  To see the bill that lost Congressman Sullivan his seat, I tried the following search in CONG-BILLTXT-ALL:  TE(health-care /3 truth /3 transparency).  The search returns 4 results; Mr. Sullivan has introduced a version of the bill every 2 years since 2005. Next January, when Mr. Bridestine takes his seat, I don’t expect him to introduce a similar bill.