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The trials of McKenna

Rob McKenna

Washington Attorney General (and prospective future Governor) Rob McKenna got two rulings from the state Supreme Court today, winning one, losing the other. He won in turning back a challenge (which seemed quixotic) from the city of Seattle (which is prone to such things) arguing that he didn’t have authority to participate in the national lawsuit against the federal 2010 healthy care law. The supreme court, without taking sides on the law, said that he could take part – which makes sense, since state AGs have been joining together in various lawsuits for decades.

That may not have a lot of specific political effect in the governor’s race. The other decision, however, may.

In that one, Peter Goldmark v. Robert McKenna, the court said that McKenna must do something he had refused to.

The Court summarized: “Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark seeks a writ of mandamus to compel Attorney General Robert McKenna to pursue an appeal from a trial court decision in a condemnation action. Although McKenna provided representation at the trial court, he refused to pursue the appeal based on his evaluation of the merits of the case. The attorney general is a constitutionally recognized office that acts as the attorney for state officers and performs other duties “prescribed by law.” The legislature has delineated what those other duties are, and RCW 43.12.075 expressly requires the attorney general to represent the commissioner in any court when so requested by the commissioner. This duty is mandatory, and the attorney general has no discretion to deny the commissioner legal representation. We therefore grant the writ.”

On one level, this seems a fairly technical point, and on the next, a battle between two partisan state officials – Goldmark is a Democrat, McKenna a Republican. But it’s very likely to be picked up and used, and it could translate into a multi-faced club.

For example, there was this more than a year ago (July 2010), when the Washington news site Publicola said it ran into Representative Jay Inslee – the main Democrat now running for governor – and chatted with him about the case. Islee replied that McKenna “seems to think he’s the Lands Commissioner, the Secretary of State, the Governor, and the AG.”

We will be hearing more of this.

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