Notes From Babel

California’s Next AG Needs to Understand the Constitution, Not Just the Penal Code

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According to, the liberal Sacramento Bee editorial board endorsed Steve Cooley, on the apparent basis that his challenger, John Eastman, has never prosecuted a criminal case. This spurious criticism of Eastman ignores that the Attorney General is a supervisor of the state’s prosecutors—and indeed, the Bee is not particularly known for having voiced any opposition to Jerry Brown for his lack of prosecutorial experience, or any other legal experience for that matter (he apparently hadn’t practiced law before seeking the attorney general position since 1969, after about four years of private practice). But more importantly, the Attorney General represents the state and the people of California before the appellate courts—both state and federal—in major constitutional cases.

Thus, a more apt critique would be, how many constitutional appeals has Steve Cooley argued, or been involved in? Eastman is a nationally recognized constitutional law attorney. Eastman would be infinitely better equipped than Cooley in arguing the constitutionality of Obama’s health care mandate before the Supreme Court. While Cooley’s relatively narrow litigation experience in criminal prosecutions is certainly valuable, it does nothing to suggest his acumen in understanding and arguing constitutional law matters. And, as I explained in a recent Sacramento Bee op-ed, many of California’s wounds are self-inflicted (such as our unfunded pension liability) and require an Attorney General who is expert in the constitution—not just the penal code—to help redress them.

In this regard, it should be noted that it would be highly unlikely that Cooley would even bring a challenge to the constitutionality of the crippling retroactive pension increases paid to public employee unions. That is because Steve Cooley himself negotiated to receive one of lavish illegal retroactive pension packages. John Eastman, who helped launch the Orange County litigation challenging those illegal benefits, is not only the best candidate, but the only one without a clear conflict of interest in taking on the retroactive pension issue.


Written by Tim Kowal

May 3, 2010 at 5:19 pm

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