Oklahoma’s lawsuit-reform debate has sadly revealed that honorable and well-meaning public officials like Governor Brad Henry and Attorney General Drew Edmondson, when push comes to shove, side with the most reactionary elements of the trial bar.
But this year’s debate revealed a problem even more disturbing than opposition to legal reform. Mr. Edmondson has imported to Oklahoma a new model of the office of attorney general that is destructive both to the rule of law and to the welfare of the state.
Traditionally, there has been a bipartisan consensus on the role of the attorney general. He defends the state and state officers in court against lawsuits, defends the state’s criminal convictions on appeal, and provides legal advice to state officials and employees. In the words of a former attorney general of Maine, “For 200 years [attorneys general] defended the states in cases brought by outside parties.” The attorney general, as one would expect from a lawyer that represents the whole public, never envisioned his role as bringing and winning big-money lawsuits. Rather, the attorney general ensures that all laws are fairly and impartially applied in the service of justice for all our citizens—even (maybe even especially) if this means that he loses his case.
Andrew Spiropoulos (M.A., J.D., University of Chicago) is a professor of law at Oklahoma City University and an adjunct scholar at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (ocpathink.org). He is a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, published by The Heritage Foundation.