Debating Who The Arizona Attorney General Can Sue, And Under What Circumstances

Published: Wednesday, September 25, 2019 - 12:25pm
Updated: Wednesday, September 25, 2019 - 1:21pm
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Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has asked the state Supreme Court to reverse a decades-old ruling, which would give him more leeway in lawsuits he’s allowed to file.

In this case, Brnovich has sued the Arizona Board of Regents, arguing tuition at the state’s public universities is unconstitutionally high, but lower courts have ruled the attorney general cannot bring the lawsuit, because he doesn’t have the permission of the Legislature or governor.

That stems from a 1960 ruling known as the McFate case, and limits the power of the attorney general to act independently.

"Like most states, Arizona has an independent, elected attorney general," said Beau Roysden, an attorney in the Attorney General’s Office. "And part of that job is to be responsible to the people. So if the attorney general sees a violation of law, whether it be by a private business or by a state agency, it 's important that the attorney general, as the people's lawyer, can go to court and have the court rule on whether, there is, in fact, a violation of the law."

In ruling against Brnovich’s right to sue in the tuition case, three appeals court judges indicated they disagree with the McFate ruling. Former Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat, agrees — telling The Show last month he thinks it’s bad law.

"And what the Court of Appeals did, was they basically wrote a brief as a concurring opinion, which says, McFate is a terrible decision, it’s time we got rid of it, Supreme Court — pay attention," Goddard said. "And, I think that was an actual textbook for the attorney general to say to the Supreme Court, here it is for you, your decision has been written, McFate has been screwing up our constitutional system in Arizona for many years. Let’s have a clean slate, and let the AG be what he should be: the attorney for the people."

But the opinions of the current and a former attorney general on this issue are not universally shared. For a dissenting view, The Show spoke with Tom Collins, executive director of the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

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