- The Washington Times - Monday, April 29, 2019

DES MOINES, Iowa — For two years, Iowa Republicans have stewed as Attorney General Tom Miller filed lawsuit after lawsuit against the Trump administration. Now, they have said “enough.”

Sitting on Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds‘ desk is a bill that would require the attorney general to obtain permission from the governor, executive council or General Assembly before initiating out-of-state legal action, which would make Iowa the first state to crack down on growing prosecutorial activism.

Republican state Rep. Gary Worthan, who is chairman of the House justice system appropriations subcommittee, said the last straw was Mr. Miller’s decision to sign onto a 20-state lawsuit last month to block the shift of Title X federal family-planning funding away from Planned Parenthood.

“That was absolutely contrary to what was happening in the legislature and the actions that the governor was signing at the time,” Mr. Worthan said. “For some of us, he’s just putting a stick in our eye, saying, ‘I’m doing this because I can.’ Well, we took a look at things and said, ‘We can change that.’”

No other state has passed such legislation, and it’s doubtful Iowa will start a trend because state governments are increasingly unifying along partisan lines.

Republicans hold the governor’s office in Iowa and both houses of the state legislature, but Mr. Miller is a Democrat who was elected to his first term in 1978.

Voting for Mr. Miller has become ingrained in Iowa — he had no Republican opponent in 2006 and won his 2018 election with 77% of the vote — meaning he can take on President Trump without paying a political price even as the state grows more robustly red.

Mr. Miller has fought the bill — so far the governor has not said whether she will sign it — arguing that it would “handcuff my ability to serve and protect Iowans, and it would also hamper the abilities of all future attorneys general.”

“There are serious separation of power concerns when the Legislature tries to restrict the authority of the Attorney General,” Mr. Miller said in a statement. “We believe Iowa would be the only state in the nation to have these restrictions on the power and duties of the Attorney General. The people of Iowa are aware of my office’s multistate litigation efforts and overwhelmingly reelected me in 2018.”

Supporters argue that nothing in the state constitution prevents the legislature from placing guardrails on the attorney general’s authority. The amendment to the budget bill would let the attorney general pursue any litigation within Iowa and defend any lawsuit filed against the state.

“We believe that we’re completely within our rights to put on some restrictions,” Mr. Worthan said. “We crafted the amendment very carefully so that he would only have to get permission for actions basically on the offense — prosecutorial actions, amicus briefs — that were originating outside the state of Iowa.”

Certainly Democratic attorneys general have cut a broad swath in the past two years, challenging the Trump administration on issues including immigration, the environment and net neutrality, often acting as a multistate coalition.

Republican attorneys general had their own run during the Obama administration, filing lawsuits against Obamacare and the Clean Power Plan, but the Democrats have easily outpaced them.

In 2017 alone, Democratic attorneys general filed 35 multistate lawsuits, compared with 46 Republican lawsuits during the eight years of the Obama presidency, according to The Daily Signal.

Several Democratic prosecutors, including California’s Xavier Becerra and Minnesota’s Keith Ellison, promised during their campaigns to serve as a foil for the Trump administration.

“They are more political today,” said Lori Kalani, a lawyer who co-runs The State AG Report blog, in Corporate Counsel. “They may be lawyers and prosecutors, but they are also politicians.”

Mr. Miller was a named party to six lawsuits against the Trump administration in 2017 and one in 2018.

His office also filed 26 amicus briefs and joined 50 letters on federal policies in 2018, but he insisted the cost was no more than $10,000, according to a Feb. 19 memo posted on Bleeding Heartland.

Like other attorneys general, Mr. Miller has also signed onto out-of-state matters. In November, for example, he joined 16 states in filing an amicus brief defending New Jersey’s ban on ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds.

The specter of the Iowa attorney general’s office spending staff time on an out-of-state gun-control law also irked Republicans. “What advantage does that have to the Iowa taxpayer?” asked Mr. Worthan.

Mr. Miller has defended his anti-Trump legal blitz by arguing that Democratic attorneys general represent a natural check on the Republican White House.

“When there is an administration and there is overreach, for a variety of reasons it is most likely people of the opposite party, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Mr. Miller told Iowa Public Television. “In fact, that is a natural check and balance, which is healthy.”

How many lawsuits did he file against the Obama administration? Just one — a lawsuit regarding the Waters of the United States rule — but Mr. Miller insisted that his decisions are “very much professional, and it’s not political.”

“I take this office very seriously,” he said.

The Democratic Attorneys General Association has urged Ms. Reynolds to veto the measure, which was added to Senate File 615, the Justice Department budget bill.

No Democrats voted in favor of the proposal.

“This eleventh-hour, behind-closed-doors move by GOP legislators to strip Attorney General Tom Miller of the ability to protect everyday Iowans puts public safety at risk,” the Democratic Attorneys General Association said in a statement.

The attorney general’s legal activity may not be a top issue for most Iowans, but Mr. Worthan said he has received positive comments since the measure passed the House a week ago on a 54-45 vote after a heated floor debate.

“There were some that thought he’d been overstepping his bounds for quite some time and brought this up,” Mr. Worthan said. “After an hour-and-a-half debate the other night, where we passed the bill, I’ve gotten a fair amount of support from people saying it was high time we did something.”

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