Bill in Iowa would limit power of attorney general to take part in lawsuits against presidential administration
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Current and former attorneys general from both major parties and several states are imploring Iowa’s Republican governor to veto a measure meant to prevent the state’s attorney general, currently a Democrat, from being able to file or join lawsuits challenging Trump administration policies.
Iowa would be the only state with such limits on the power of an independently elected attorney general if Gov. Kim Reynolds signs off on the bill, which would require the attorney general to get the permission of the governor, Legislature or state executive council, which includes the governor and other statewide elected officials, to file any out-of-state court action.
“There is no question that Iowa would be the only state that has done this to itself, and that the only losers are the people of Iowa,” said Jim Tierney, a Harvard Law School lecturer who served as Maine attorney general from 1980 to 1990.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has done his best to argue on his own behalf and persuade Reynolds to veto the language inserted by a GOP lawmaker into a justice system budget bill in the last days of the legislative session.
Miller met last week with Reynolds to discuss the measure, which is aimed at stopping him from filing or joining lawsuits challenging Trump administration policies. His spokesman, Lynn Hicks, said Miller “thought the meeting went well and he explained the reasons we think this legislation is a bad idea for the state and Iowans.”
Reynolds said recently that she would examine the bill’s language and determine what the Legislature’s motivation was for including it. She has until May 27th to act on remaining bills that the Legislature sent to her before adjourning.
State attorneys general often join multi-state lawsuits to recoup monetary losses or to stop companies from engaging in consumer fraud, deceptive practices or other misconduct. They also join in lawsuits against the federal government challenging the constitutionality of policies when the attorney general believes they harm citizens or infringe on their rights. It’s common for a group of Democratic attorneys general to sue Republican administrations and vice versa.
State Rep. Gary Worthan, a Republican, defended the language he added to the bill, saying the Republican-run Legislature and governor set the agenda for the state and the attorney general’s actions have conflicted with those priorities with his challenges to Trump.
The GOP has tried unsuccessfully to unseat Miller, who was first elected in 1978, is serving his 10th four-year term and is the longest serving attorney general in the country.
Miller has said he joins out-of-state cases only when the law and the interest of Iowans indicate that he should. Cases he joined against the Trump administration involved internet access, immigration policies including the separation of children from their parents, and safeguarding the federal health care law’s guarantee of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
Miller also said Iowans overwhelmingly re-elected him in 2018 after he took on some Trump administration policies during the president’s first two years.
He asked fellow attorneys general to write to Reynolds and explain why the limitations are a bad idea.
“As a nation of checks and balances, it is essential that we retain as many of our inherent checks and balances as possible to ensure the our offices function as that envisioned by our states’ founding fathers, instead of according to political cycles,” wrote Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who is a Republican.
In another letter to Reynolds, a group of former Democratic and Republican attorneys general asked her to veto the measure.
“Our office holders should cultivate — not impede — elected officials’ ability to work together and independently for the good of us all,” they wrote. The signers included Republican Jon Bruning of Nebraska, Betty Montgomery of Ohio and Democrats Dustin McDaniel of Arkansas, and Patrick Lynch of Rhode Island.
In December, then-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who is a Republican, vetoed a bill that the GOP-controlled Legislature passed during a lame duck session that would have granted lawmakers the power to intercede in any court cases challenging the constitutionality of their laws. It was aimed at undermining the power of the incoming Democratic attorney general, Dana Nessel.