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Iowa Governor Vetoes Limit On Attorney General

tom miller
Katarina Sostaric
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller speaks at a news conference in Des Moines Wednesday.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds vetoed a measure Wednesday that would have limited the Democratic attorney general’s authority to join out-of-state lawsuits. Instead, the two officials had a private meeting and reached an agreement that will have a similar effect.

Republican lawmakers passed language in the final week of the 2019 legislative session that would have required the attorney general to get permission from the governor, the executive council, or the legislature before joining an out-of-state lawsuit. Iowa would be the only state with this policy.

Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, said at the time that Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller had signed on to too many lawsuits challenging Trump administration policies.

Reynolds said in a statement Wednesday that she shares those concerns about Miller, who was recently elected to a tenth term as attorney general.

“He has participated in litigation throughout the nation, repeatedly taking positions in the name of the State of Iowa that are in conflict with Iowa’s statutes, the policy goals of the legislature and governor, and the best interests of Iowans,” Reynolds said.

But Reynolds said she is “cautious” about changing the law to redefine the scope of an elected official’s duties, so she and Miller reached a compromise.

Miller agreed he will not join out-of-state lawsuits on behalf of the state without the governor’s permission, but he can join lawsuits in his own name. He also agreed to join lawsuits on behalf of the state when the governor requests it.

“We were in a difficult situation, and I think this is a good resolution,” Miller said. “I look forward to implementing it. And I’m very relieved that the code of Iowa is not going to contain the language that restricts the powers and duties of the attorney general.”

This means Miller is unlikely to join more lawsuits against the Trump administration.

Worthan said the agreement meets the goals of Republican lawmakers who voted to restrict the attorney general’s authority.

House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, said he’s pleased Reynolds vetoed the “political power grab.”

James Tierney, a national expert on state attorneys general, said it is common for state attorneys general to join lawsuits against presidents of the opposing political party, but there have been more lawsuits against the Trump administration.

Tierney said Reynolds’ veto was the right thing to do, because the attorney general is supposed to be independent from the governor.

“The idea is to provide an independent legal authority that will speak for the people and not necessarily for any particular gubernatorial administration,” Tierney said.

He added he doesn’t know of any other states that have a formal agreement like the one reached between Miller and Reynolds.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter