State Supreme Court justices are considering the limits of Rob McKenna‘s power.
The attorney general’s authority is the subject of two cases that came before the court today for oral arguments. In one, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes has challenged McKenna’s participating in a challenge of the federal health care overhaul. In the other, Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark is trying to force McKenna to continue to represent him in a legal case involving condemnation of state trust lands.
Twenty state attorneys general are suing over the health care bill. Among other arguments, they say the federal government doesn’t have the power to require everyone to buy health insurance.
McKenna isn’t representing any state official in the case, and Holmes says that’s the problem. No law allows Washington’s attorney general to strike out on his own and sue on behalf of the state, he says. McKenna’s lawyer today pointed to a law that says his job is to “represent the state.”
But justices may not end up deciding the scope of that authority, if their decision hinges on a more technical point. Some of them seemed skeptical that Seattle has legal standing to sue.
In the other case, justices seemed sympathetic to Goldmark’s argument that McKenna must appeal the case on his behalf. Some, including Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, noted that state agencies like Goldmark’s have no access to the courts except through the attorney general.