Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has provided accurate, objective legal advice to legislators, other state elected officials, and state agencies for the past 20 years. Political adversaries sometimes criticize him for telling them what the law is, rather than what they want to hear.
It’s clear the role of the Attorney General is often misunderstood and sometimes deliberately misstated. The Idaho Attorney General is not a cop, although he does have limited prosecutorial powers. He doesn’t decide what the law should be. The legislature and governor make policy. The AG doesn’t “rule” on whether certain actions are legal or not. That’s up to the courts.
Instead, the AG is the lawyer for the state of Idaho. He represents the state in court, provides legal services to state elected officials, legislators and state agencies, and performs other responsibilities assigned by the legislature, e.g., enforcing the state’s Consumer Protection Act.
The AG is required to provide legal opinions to any member of the legislature, when asked. A legal opinion is a well-researched, educated assessment as to how a court is likely to rule on a legal issue. It is not a “ruling,” and it is not binding. The legislature can ignore it, but that is a legal risk.
The reason the AG advises lawmakers is to help them write laws that will survive court challenges. When a court overturns legislation, the problem lawmakers intended to fix is left unsolved.
One of AG Wasden’s opponents promises to give biased legal advice to conservative lawmakers. This could cost taxpayers a lot of money. If he tells lawmakers that an unconstitutional bill is legally sound because he thinks that’s what they want to hear, the court will still overturn it.
When the legal advice is biased, more costly and successful court challenges are likely. More laws will be overturned, more policy goals will be unfilled, and taxpayers will be on the hook for even more hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees for the challenging party. Ironically, an attorney general who issues “conservative” advice for partisan reasons may well become the largest financial contributor to liberal organizations challenging Idaho law.
Lawrence Wasden has always given legal advice based on the law. His goal is to protect the state of Idaho’s legal interests and, therefore, protect Idaho taxpayers. Sometimes this is politically difficult, but political considerations don’t influence the advice he gives. I know this because I worked closely with Lawrence every day for 17 years.
Now Raul Labrador’s Washington, D.C., supporters are attacking Lawrence for not joining a Texas lawsuit that tried to overturn Pennsylvania’s election results. This out-of-state group doesn’t tell you two important things about that lawsuit. First, Texas lost. The U.S. Supreme Court kicked out their case in less than a week. Second, if Texas had won, there would be a new precedent: states that don’t like something another state does could sue other states. California could sue Idaho over our gun laws, Nevada could sue for Idaho’s water, or Massachusetts might sue over Idaho’s election results. These are principled reasons AG Wasden didn’t join the Texas lawsuit.
Labrador has made it clear that he would have joined the failed Texas lawsuit. He won’t mind spending more of your tax money on losing partisan pet projects.
Before you vote for Attorney General in the Republican primary, give that some thought. Do you want an AG who believes in partisanship or one who believes in the rule of law? If you want principled legal services that protect Idaho taxpayers, you’ll want to vote for Lawrence Wasden.
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Bob Cooper served as the Office of Attorney General Communications Director from 1996-2014. He was previously a government reporter and editor at a Boise television station.