There is a quiet, very polite conflict going on in the executive branch of Minnesota state government, over who legally represents the state and who calls the shots about going to court over the recent health care reform legislation, aspiring 2012 presidential candidate Gov. Tim Pawlenty is locked in a battle with AG Lori Swanson over who legally speaks for the people of Minnesota on the issue.
From the official web site of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson (D): “About the Attorney General’s Office:The Attorney General is the chief legal officer for the State of Minnesota. … The Office represents the state in state and federal court, as well as in administrative adjudication and rulemaking hearings. … In addition, the Office issues formal opinions interpreting statutes for the agencies and political subdivisions of the state. … The Office is the state’s chief policy maker and law enforcer in the important areas of consumer protection, antitrust enforcement and charities’ regulation. ”
The topic was covered by the Christian Science Monitor back in an article back in March, just after it became law, in response to the same conflict happening in many other states as well, “State attorneys general are constitutionally independent state officers and have autonomy in their decisions to take action on behalf of their states,” according to Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.”
A position which has not stopped Minnesota’s Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, who appears to have strong 2012 presidential ambitions, from grandstanding to the arch-conservative GOP base. “T-Paw” boasted to the media from Fox News to Minnesota Public Radio in early April about joining, on behalf of the state of Minnesota, in the AG litigation in Florida challenging the new Health Care Reform law.
Last September, in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos, Pawlenty sang a different tune. He didn’t think health care reform merited a legal challenge.
Stephanopoulos: “So, just to be clear, are you suggesting that any parts of the plan as the president has laid it out are unconstitutional?”
Pawlenty:”Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a legal issue.”
A change in position that Newsweek’s Alan Romano mocked when he wrote, “Pawlenty Flip-Flops on Health Care”, asking “Is T-Paw the new John Kerry?” in his April 6, 2010 column, The Gaggle, Why the change, in short, presidential ambitions. Or, maybe instead of the suit he has boasted about, as T-Paw asserts much more quietly, he will just file an Amicus Curiae (“friend of the court”) brief on behalf of Minnesota, an opinion / advisory document opposing the legislation.
T-Paw was at one time a practicing attorney and is in his second term as governor. So he should be aware that he is NOT the legal representative for the state of Minnesota in federal court or any other court. We Minnesotans ELECT the Attorney General to do that job, and to exercise that authority. Given how long it has been since he has practiced law, I’d expect T-Paw to be seeking expert legal ghost writing instead of relying on his own legal qualifications to draft an amicus brief. If so, I don’t imagine that service will come cheaply. As a resident of Minnesota, which has seen serious deficits in our state finances resulting is harsh cuts to important budget spending, I particularly would be irked if Governor ‘T-Paw’ uses any of our state money to get good legal help for his self-serving brief, given recent state budget cuts.
AG Swanson, in a savvy display of what we like to call “Minnesota nice”, (which is not always quite as sweet as it seems on the surface), refused to file suit opposing the new law or to join the Republican AGs doing so, but she did write a formal letter to Governor T-Paw giving her official blessing for him to go ahead with his amicus brief. It’s much less impressive to merely offer a formerly practicing attorney’s legal opinion to the court – which the court can ignore. I think Swanson may have politely cooperated with the Governor, giving him enough scope to embarrass himself, and just enough rope to hang himself, leaving him twisting in the wind if he fails. Given the number of states joining the litigation in Florida, T-Paw may be bringing too little too late to the party to impress the GOP hard core with his presidential potential.
Swanson has also indicated to the Governor she will be offering the court her own amicus brief, which she has a more legitimate right to do than Pawlenty on behalf of the state of Minnesota. Swanson, however, will be supporting the health care reform law, and opposing Governor T-Paw. Personally, I think she will make him look ridiculous; she is arguably a better lawyer than he is. Her legal opinion is based on the law, not on ambition as a candidate for the White House in 2012.