By Dick Hall-Sizemore
A recent article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch has compelled me to once again mount my soapbox about one of my favorite peeves — the misleading claims, and understanding, of the role of the Virginia Attorney General.
I will say upfront that I realize that mine is a lost cause and, furthermore, what I am reacting to is political rhetoric. Nevertheless, like Steve Haner on another subject, I need to get it off my chest.
The article profiled the four candidates for the Republican nomination for Attorney General. In their remarks, there were several themes in common:
- Opening schools and businesses
- Professionalism of the Office of Attorney General
- Use of force by police
- Qualified immunity for law enforcement
Opening schools and businesses—Some candidates were quite specific; others not so much. Leslie Haley promised to “look at issues that exist in executive orders and recent legislation that violates and impugns our constitutional rights.” She can look at executive orders all she wants. The Governor does not have to abide by her opinion. As for violating constitutional rights, Virginia courts have upheld Northam’s executive orders.
Jason Miyares was specific. If any school is still closed, he will bring suit. That is an empty promise. By the time the next Attorney General takes office, schools will be open. Besides, it is not clear what would be the basis of the suit. The Virginia Constitution requires all localities to provide public education, but it does not specify the format for providing that education. But this sounds good.
Jack White also talked about reopening schools and businesses, but that is not the role of the Attorney General.
Professionalism in the OAG—Surprisingly, this is actually a topic relevant to who gets elected Attorney General.However, the candidates beg the question of how the office is not professional now. This is Jack White’s top priority. He wants to move the office away from special interests. What special interests? He wants to move it away from political agendas. If this means that he will pledge not to run for Governor and use the office as a platform to do so, I will vote for him if he is the Republican nominee.
Haley wants to get the office back to one of service to citizens. Never mind that the primary role of the office is to provide legal advice to state agencies and to defend the Commonwealth in court, would she beef up the OAG’s Division of Consumer Counsel and represent consumers more forcefully, especially at the SCC in Dominion rate cases? If so, she should say so. That could get her some votes, but, it also may cost her some campaign contributions.
Use of force by police—They all want to hold police “accountable.” Beyond that, they are not too specific on how to do it. Haley would rely on local Commonwealth’s Attorneys and is worried about “overreach” by the Attorney General. She seems to be unaware of legislation just passed by the General Assembly authorizing the Attorney General to investigate a “pattern or practice” in a locality that deprives persons of their rights.
Qualified immunity—All strongly supported retaining qualified immunity for law enforcement. That is certainly a topic relevant to recent events, but it is a policy decision for the legislature to make, and, by extension, the Governor. The Attorney General would be limited to lobbying the General Assembly for or against any bill that would repeal or weaken sovereign immunity. I think the voice of law enforcement would carry greater weight in such a situation.
Chuck Smith trotted out the old bromide that the laws need to be enforced and he would be a “law-and-order” attorney general. Sorry, it is up to the police to enforce the laws and the Attorney General has only limited authority to prosecute criminal cases.
Miyares’s second priority would be to investigate the Parole Board. I have looked at the provisions in the Code of Virginia relating to the powers of the Attorney General and I did not find any provision that authorizes the Attorney General to investigate a state agency. He goes on to rail against the Parole Board releasing murderers and rapists. Whatever the merit of such complaints, the Parole Board has the discretion in law to do just that. Nor does the Attorney General have any role in deciding who is a member of the Parole Board — that power belongs to the Governor and the General Assembly.
Please, let’s amend the state constitution and make the Attorney General a gubernatorial appointee.