Duty and voter ID: The state attorney general finds herself in a dilemma
Share with others:
Kathleen Kane is the first Democrat to be elected attorney general since it became an elective office in 1980. As if making up for lost time, she's been giving Republicans fits after being sworn in last month.
She blocked a British company from expanding gambling in the governor's lottery privatization deal and ended the so-called Florida loophole that allowed rejected gun owners to get around Pennsylvania law on conceal-carry permits. Now she is weighing an issue more controversial than these -- the state's voter ID law, which had its implementation delayed by Commonwealth Court.
Ms. Kane criticized the law on the campaign trail and now may have a difficult time defending it in court. Democrats have argued -- and this newspaper has agreed -- that the plan was a blatant attempt to disenfranchise voters, such as the poor and minorities who would normally be expected to cast their ballots against Republicans.
The problem is that the lawsuit challenging the voter ID law will be heard in July. As the state's chief legal and law enforcement officer, the attorney general would normally be in court to defend the law, since defending lawsuits against the commonwealth is one of the basic duties of the office.
But Ms. Kane argues that she also has a duty to uphold the state constitution, hence a dilemma. What duty should she follow? By her own telling, her office has been "talking a lot" about this, a confirmation of sorts that the call to be made isn't simple.
The fact that the attorney general's office is elective is an admission that some partisanship is built into the system. Yet that goes only so far. Attorneys general will have their own emphasis and make political decisions -- as Tom Corbett did when he joined the lawsuit brought by other Republican attorneys general against the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act.
But the attorney general's business still must be done. Criminals must be prosecuted in a non-partisan way and lawsuits must be defended in the same manner. We think the voter ID lawsuit is better decided -- and will be better accepted -- if a judge rules after hearing from both sides ably represented.
That said, Ms. Kane's opinion suggests a conflict of interest and it may be better that she hands the lead role in defending the law to the Office of General Counsel in the governor's office. That may be a way to meet the demands of both duty and conscience.
First Published March 1, 2013 12:00 am