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Stan Garnett on enforcing state laws he opposes

By | July 28th, 2010

The Arizona immigration law will take effect Thursday with key provisions blocked by a federal judge and an appeal likely.  Stan Garnett, the Boulder County district attorney who is running for attorney general of Colorado, was asked about such legislation on June 22 at a Democratic event in Denver.

Question: “If you are elected, and I hope you are, and we are unfortunate enough to get a Republican legislature that then passes an Arizona law, what can you do?”

“That’s a great question,” said Garnett. “Well, first of all, I’ll do everything I can to keep that from happening. And, you know, the attorney general has a significant lobbying presence on the Capitol, where committees ask us and everything else. And I’ll go over there and make every argument I can about why that shouldn’t happen. If that law does pass, my duties as attorney general would be to defend the laws of Colorado, unless I believe that they are so completely unsupportable and indefensible that it’d be unethical for me to take that position.”

By way of example, he cited Amendment 2 [the anti-gay rights initiative approved in 1992 by Colorado voters and eventually overturned in 1996 by the U.S. Supreme Court] and the role of then-Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton.

“So I would look at it very closely. I would not pursue the defense of anything I felt I ethically couldn’t defend. But, and then I would find a way to defend it where I could.”

We can debate the merit, or lack of merit, of the Arizona immigration law, Amendment 2, or any other controversial law. But here’s what Garnett is saying, if I understand him correctly, about how as state attorney general he would deal with a law he vehemently opposes:

- Do everything in his power to stop it, including using the lobbying muscle of his office.

- Defend “the laws of Colorado, unless I believe that they are so unsupportable and indefensible that it’d be unethical for me to take that position.”

- Find “a way to defend it where I could.”

As a citizen, here’s my take: the Colorado attorney general is the chief law enforcer in the state, not the chief lawmaker. It’s the job of the legislature [and citizens through the ballot initiative process] to make laws. The attorney general’s job is to enforce them.

So, what other laws, in Garnett’s view, might fall into the “unsupportable and indefensible” category?

If Garnett wants to create laws, maybe he should run for the legislature instead.

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