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The Washington Supreme Court decided today, in two separate cases, whether Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna was actually doing his job.
In one case, the high court gave him a pass, but in the other, the justices put their foot down and ordered him to act.
The first case has to do with McKenna's lawsuit against the health-care-reform law signed by President Obama last year. McKenna had joined several other attorneys general in suing to block the implementation of the law on the grounds that mandating people buy insurance is unconstitutional.
The city of Seattle, meanwhile, sued McKenna to get him to drop the lawsuit. The state Supreme Court today ruled for McKenna.
Justice Susan Owens authored the opinion:
The people of the state of Washington have, by statute, vested the attorney general with broad authority, and Attorney General McKenna's decision to sue to enjoin the enforcement of the [Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act] falls within that broad authority. As such, Attorney General McKenna has no mandatory duty to withdraw the State from the multistate litigation.
The decision represents a win for McKenna, if perhaps only in regard to his fight with Gov. Gregoire over the lawsuit. The suit against the health-care-reform act itself is another story, as the general consensus is that the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately decide that outcome.
The other state Supreme Court decision did not go so well for the wannabe governor.
That case had to do with McKenna's duty, or lack thereof, in appealing a land-use decision that involved condemning a tract of state trust land in Methow Valley, so a power transmission line could be strung across it.
When the superior court ruled that the Okanogan Public Utility District could indeed use the land, Washington's Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, a Democrat, asked McKenna to appeal that decision through his role as attorney general.
McKenna refused to appeal, and many saw the move as an obvious attempt for him to curry favor with PUDs across the state.
The state Supreme Court decided today that Goldmark is right and McKenna has a duty to appeal.
Justice Charles W. Johnson has the opinion.
We hold that the attorney general's position is not frivolous, but involves a good-faith argument of statutory and constitutional interpretation. . . Under the statutes, the responsibility is clear. Because we find no discretion within this duty, we issue the writ and direct the attorney general to provide the commissioner with legal representation.
This case, though not national in scope, is likely more important to McKenna's immediate future. Just the fact that he'll now have to take time away from campaigning to, you know, do his job as AG, will impact his election bid.
Democrats, meanwhile, have been handed ammunition to use against McKenna in saying that state's highest court agrees that he has been shirking his duties for political gain.
All told, the day is likely a net negative for the aspiring governor. And it's a good reminder that attorneys general still have their hands in a lot of pies when they begin running for office.