Iowa Governor Vetoes Limit on Attorney General Powers

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – Iowa’s Republican Governor Kim Reynolds vetoed legislation Wednesday that would have sharply limited the authority of the Democratic attorney general to bring litigation on behalf of the state in courts outside its borders.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers her Condition of the State address before a joint session of the Iowa Legislature in Des Moines, Jan. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

In exchange for the veto, however, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller agreed not to bring out-of-state litigation on behalf of the state without Reynolds’ approval – including the sorts of lawsuits against the Trump administration that prompted the legislation in the first place.

Republican lawmakers were motivated by concerns that Miller, a Democrat, was joining too many lawsuits against the administration of President Donald Trump. But the amendment would have gone much further in curtailing the powers of present and future attorneys general.

The legislation, which was tacked onto an appropriations bill in the final hours of the recently concluded legislative session, would have barred the state’s attorney general from bringing any civil or criminal actions “in any other court or tribunal other than an Iowa court or tribunal” in which the state is a party unless “requested to do so by the governor, executive council, or General Assembly.”

As passed, the bill would have effectively prevented Attorney General Miller from bringing lawsuits Republicans may not like. The party controls the governor’s office, both houses of the Legislature and three out of five seats on the Iowa Executive Council.

In a letter explaining her veto, Governor Reynolds said Iowa lawmakers had legitimate concerns.

“I share many of the concerns expressed by members of the legislature about the past actions of Attorney General Tom Miller in courts outside of Iowa,” the governor wrote. “He has participated in litigation throughout the nation, repeatedly taking positions in the name of the state of Iowa that are in conflict with Iowa’s statutes, the policy goals of the Legislature and governor, and the best interests of Iowans.”

But, Reynolds added, “I am cautious about approving a provision that redefines the scope of the attorney general’s duties because I am mindful that the attorney general is also elected by, and directly accountable to, the people of Iowa.”

In a statement released Wednesday, Miller described the agreement-for-veto deal as a “compromise.”

“My greater concern was always about the institution of the attorney general and its powers and duties,” he said. “My successors were always more important than the current attorney general. By vetoing the legislation, Governor Reynolds is protecting this interest and concern.”

Miller, who was just re-elected last year to his 10th four-year term, is the longest currently serving attorney general in the nation.

“A long time ago when I was first elected attorney general of Iowa…the other state attorneys general  preached to me the importance of the powers and duties of our office and the great obligation to protect those powers and duties. I will not be haunted by the ghosts of my elders,” he said. “I agree to get the consent of the governor to bring out of state cases when the state of Iowa is the plaintiff, but not when the attorney general of Iowa is the plaintiff.”

Last year, Miller joined six multistate lawsuits that included Iowa as a named party challenging actions of the Trump administration, on issues including 3D guns, family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border, greenhouse gas standards and net neutrality.

Miller said Wednesday that his agreement with the governor “allows my office to continue to protect Iowans through consumer enforcement actions, which are primarily filed in Iowa courts. It also allows me to express my opinion on matters affecting Iowans before federal agencies and Congress.”

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