OPINION: Running the state’s largest law firm takes a proven, courageous leader
| April 13, 2022 11:01 AM
Raul Labrador recently expressed some crankiness toward me for questioning his understanding of what the Idaho Attorney General’s job duties are. Based on what he says, you would think that the AG just devotes his time to helping extremist lawmakers draft their legislation and signing onto legal briefs written by AGs of other states.
The Attorney General’s job is actually much more complicated than that. The AG is responsible for running the largest law firm in the state with 125 lawyers, together with investigators, paralegals and support staff. Those folks provide legal advice and assistance to State agencies. It is essential that state officials get the best legal advice possible so that they will act within the law. That saves the state lots of money.
Wasden has gained a reputation for fearless leadership for the state of Idaho. In 1995, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) entered into an agreement with the state to clean up nuclear waste at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). The waste sat smack dab above the precious ground water in the Snake River Plains Aquifer. When the federal government sought to drag out the timeline for cleanup, Wasden stood firm, insisting the cleanup continue — the only Idaho official to do so. He took a tremendous amount of heat for doing so, putting his job on the line amidst claims he was endangering jobs and work at INL. He stuck by his guns and, lo and behold, the cleanup has just been completed and the INL is doing just fine. It would not have happened without Wasden’s courageous stand.
When Idaho Power Company made moves to undo some of the water protections designed to protect the water rights of Idaho farms, cities and businesses in the historic Swan Falls Agreement, Wasden took the company to court. The parties reached an agreement in 2009 that reinforces the water rights protections for Snake River water users located upstream from Swan Falls in Ada County.
Wasden has negotiated water rights agreements with the Coeur d’Alene and Nez Perce Tribes on terms favorable to the state and has fought against overreach by the federal government on its water rights claims. He has vigorously sought to protect the authority of states to adjudicate federal water claims in state courts.
Labrador makes no mention of these basic bread and butter issues that are so vital to our state’s future in his campaign pitch. There is no indication that he knows a thing about water rights or any of the many other important issues the Attorney General is called upon to deal with every day of his tenure. With Idaho facing the prospect of years of drought, it is essential that we have an Attorney General who has a proven track record of protecting Idaho water.
Instead, Labrador criticizes Wasden for an opinion questioning the constitutionality of a bill to keep transgender athletes from competing in sports. What Labrador left unsaid is that a federal judge agreed with Wasden’s constitutional analysis. Wasden was just doing his job, as required by his oath of office, to honor the U.S. and Idaho Constitutions as interpreted by the courts. Was Labrador implying that he would violate that oath by telling legislators what they wanted to hear? I believe the federal judge’s decision would still be the same.
An honest AG is duty bound to write opinions that accurately state what the law is, rather than what the AG believes it should be. His or her personal beliefs must be set aside in giving constitutional advice. Otherwise, the state will be sued and could face substantial damages and attorney fees.
The Idaho AG must have good sense, an understanding of the law, proven management skills, a dedication to the rule of law and a strong measure of courage. Wasden fits that bill perfectly. A reputable private law firm would not put a person in charge who did not fit that profile. The largest and most important law firm in the state should not be run by someone who simply can’t measure up to that high standard.
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Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran who served eight years as Idaho Attorney General (1983-1991) and 12 years as a Justice on the Idaho Supreme Court (2005-2017). He is currently a regular contributor to The Hill online news. He blogs at JJCommonTater.
Wasden stood firm:
The cleanup has just been completed:
The parties reached an agreement in 2009:
Prospect of years of drought:
A federal judge agreed: