Republicans aim to limit Democratic Attorney General’s power

DES MOINES — Republican lawmakers in Iowa want to limit the powers of the state’s attorney general, citing frustration that the Democrat joined lawsuits opposing the actions of President Donald Trump.

Tom Miller, the longest-serving sitting state attorney general in the U.S., joined six lawsuits in 2018 that aimed to obstruct Trump’s policies, which included separating families of immigrants on the southern U.S. border and requiring additional citizenship information on the 2020 census.

Miller’s office was also involved in 26 amicus briefs and 50 letters to federal agencies opposing the Trump administration’s actions.

Rep. Gary Worthan’s sponsored measure would require Miller’s office to get permission from the governor, the General Assembly or the Executive Council before joining any out-of-state lawsuits, the Des Moines Register reported.

“We have a Republican governor, we have a Republican Legislature, and we have had an attorney general that has been going outside of the state taking part in lawsuits that are the complete antithesis to the agenda that the governor and the Legislature has set,” said Worthan.

Last week, Republican lawmakers passed the provision in a key House budget committee.

“What’s being proposed sort of goes to the heart of the office of the attorney general,” said Miller. “Deciding when to file a lawsuit and whether there’s a legal basis for it, is within our authority, expertise. What the public expects of us.”

Miller’s office has also joined in multistate lawsuits connected to consumer protection in industries which include for-profit colleges and universities, mortgage and credit card abuse and debt collection.

In December 2018, Iowa spearheaded a lawsuit against Wells Fargo that subsequently ended in a $575 million settlement, including a $6.2 million payment to Iowa’s Consumer Education and Litigation Fund.

“We believe Iowa would be the only state in the nation to have these restrictions on the power and duties of the Attorney General,” Miller said. “As written, the language would affect far more than lawsuits against the federal government and would limit our ability to act on such issues as consumer protection, antitrust violations and Medicaid fraud.”

If passed, Miller said he’d consider filing a lawsuit. Miller referenced a lawsuit that stemmed from GOP lawmakers in Wisconsin passing legislation to reduce the powers of their governor and attorney general.

It’s uncertain whether Worthan’s proposal will progress out of Republican-controlled chambers. Sen. Julian Garrett, a Republican lawmaker helping to create justice-related subsidies out of the Senate, said he’s still reviewing the measure.