Last week, 20 Republican Attorneys General from around the country showed the nation yet again that they are not willing to listen to voters who simply want our states' top lawyers to engage in problem-solving, and not politics as usual. This time, the issue is blocking women's access to birth control.
These Attorneys General need look no further than their former colleague in Virginia to see the peril of their hyper-political approach.
Ken Cuccinelli's loss in the 2013 Virginia Governor's race defied history. Over the past 40 years, Virginia's voters have operated by a simple rule: they don't elect a Governor from the same party as the sitting president. But in November, Virginians did just that.
What can explain his loss?
A number of factors played a role, but one thing became clear by the end of the Virginia race -- voters expect their Attorney General to be the lawyer for the state and its citizens, and not simply for a party's ideology. They expect good-faith advocacy and problem-solving from their state's top law officer, not the same polarized politics we see in most other political bodies.
But time and again, Cuccinelli chose to be the lawyer for the far right of his party as opposed to the lawyer for the women and men of Virginia.
Once Virginians figured it out... they promptly threw him out. And in his place, they elected an Attorney General whose clear message was "problem solving, not politics" -- rejecting the hyper-political playbook Cuccinelli had wielded.
Last week, Ohio's Attorney General Mike DeWine and Michigan's Attorney General Bill Schuette ignored the lesson of Virginia when they co-authored an amicus brief at the Supreme Court in the combined Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood case.
In fact, DeWine, Schuette and numerous other Attorneys General -- including Cuccinelli before his demise -- have been filing such briefs all over the country for years.
In the Supreme Court case and others, this band of 19 men and one woman argue that female employees at private, for-profit companies should only gain insurance coverage for birth control (or for other health choices) in cases where the CEO of their company does not have a moral or religious objection to birth control. Otherwise, they argue, letting women make these choices for themselves would violate the constitutional rights of their CEO.
That's right -- under their theory, rather than allowing each woman's own moral and religious views to inform her own health decisions, each woman must defer to the CEO's religious and moral judgment of her choices. Sounds like the very type of "Mad Men" workplace rule the President spoke out against in his State of the Union.
Beyond turning freedom of religion on its head (employees must follow the religious views of the boss), let alone cutting women off from choosing medical regiments that research has proven can reduce ovarian and other cancers, it is interesting to observe how zealously these Attorneys General are pursuing this crusade. These cases absorb countless hours and many taxpayer dollars while other serious challenges go unanswered in their respective states.
Take Ohio's Mike DeWine as an example. Ohio is ranked fourth in foreclosures, first in mortgage fraud, and has had a heroin epidemic exploding across the state for years -- one that DeWine only began talking about a few months ago.
While those problems fester, DeWine has vigorously waged his birth control battle for years. He has filed cases, joined cases, and filed amicus briefs in cases emanating from Nebraska, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois and North Carolina -- often when no Ohio citizen or company was involved in the case.
And he has lost virtually every decision for a wide variety of reasons. The Michigan case was rejected on the merits by a George W. Bush appointee to the federal appeals court. And the Nebraska federal judge said he lacked standing. But still he and the others persist, culminating in their 36-page brief in Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood.
The Supreme Court's decision, most likely coming in June, is a toss-up due to the split ideological makeup of the Court, and promises to be one of this year's most heavily anticipated decisions.
But the other big question is what voters tell us in November about this new model of Attorney General -- aggressively using the resources and credibility of these offices waging partisan and divisive political battles all across the country.
Put in Ohio terms, do we want our Attorney General fighting foreclosures in Cleveland or fighting birth control in Omaha?
In Virginia, at least, the voters made their choice clear.
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