Louisiana AG Buddy Caldwell defended his reasoning for joining the previously all Republican attempt to overturn the new healthcare legislation via a lawsuit with the given excuse:
As Attorney General, I am duty bound by my oath of office to pursue a request by the Governor of the state of Louisiana for legal assistance, so long as it has substantial legal merit. (emphasis mine)
Now, we could argue if the case actually has any legal merit (I doubt it) but that is not the point. As it has been explained in the media, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal allegedly threatened the AG with the loss of some staff positions if he did not comply with the Governor’s request that he join the lawsuit.
In a subsequent address to employees of his office, the Attorney General said the decision was made more out of the necessity of saving jobs in his agency than any real hope—or desire—of overturning the health care law.
One employee said Caldwell, in a candid admission, claimed that a deal was made with Jindal. Under terms of that agreement, the governor would not make additional cuts in the attorney general’s budget if Caldwell joined in the litigation. Caldwell agreed to be the “token Democrat,” he said, so that he might save additional job cuts by an administration whose state goal is to reduce the number of state employees by as much as 5,000 per year over three years.
Now, many are calling this a threat and others are calling it a bribe. You can argue the semantics of what it is all day but there is an important aspect of this that needs to be addressed.
The Louisiana Attorney General is an elected position. As such, one would think that he would have the autonomy to pursue (or not pursue) whatever he felt was necessary in the course of his service to the State of Louisiana.
The Constitution of the State of Louisiana confirms this.
Section 8. There shall be a Department of Justice, headed by the attorney general, who shall be the chief legal officer of the state. The attorney general shall be elected for a term of four years at the state general election. The assistant attorneys general shall be appointed by the attorney general to serve at his pleasure.
As necessary for the assertion or protection of any right or interest of the state, the attorney general shall have authority (1) to institute, prosecute, or intervene in any civil action or proceeding; (2) upon the written request of a district attorney, to advise and assist in the prosecution of any criminal case; and (3) for cause, when authorized by the court which would have original jurisdiction and subject to judicial review, (a) to institute, prosecute, or intervene in any criminal action or proceeding, or (b) to supersede any attorney representing the state in any civil or criminal action.
The attorney general shall exercise other powers and perform other duties authorized by this constitution or by law.
There doesn’t seem to be any constitutional requirement for the AG to do the bidding of the Governor.
However, while the assistant attorney generals serve at the pleasure of the AG, other staff does not serve at his pleasure and those positions can (apparently) be eliminated when the Governor sees fit.
Apparently, Governor Jindal feels that staffing levels in the Department of Justice should be set by how subservient the AG is willing to be when it comes to the demands of the Governor and not by the total money available in the state budget or the needs of the Attorney General to do his constitutionally mandated job.
This leads me to question the autonomy that Caldwell, or any AG, will have under Bobby Jindal. If anybody in the Jindal Administration comes under scrutiny and needs to be investigated, will Caldwell do his duty and investigate the appropriate people and do his job? Or has Bobby Jindal effectively neutered the ability of the AG to investigate the political allies of Governor Jindal with the threat of departmental cuts if Jindal’s bidding is not done.
Jindal has now managed to turn the AG into his puppet while removing one more avenue to investigate the Governor’s office.
And to all the remaining Jindal apologists, how does manipulating the AG to do your bidding with the threat of reduced staffing levels fall under the “gold standard of ethics” promised by Governor Jindal?