Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Former Washington State Attorney General Slade Gorton penned a powerful piece for the Olympian regarding two State Supreme Court cases challenging the independence of the AGO. One lawsuit, by Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, aims to stop the Attorney General from participating in the multi-state lawsuit against parts of the national heath care law. The other, by Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, attempts to force the Attorney General to appeal a particular case. Sen. Gorton explains why the role of the Attorney General should be protected by the courts, not micro-managed by other government officials:

[T]he attorney general is the only state officer situated to know and qualified to evaluate the legal interests of the state across all of government. Throughout our history, this role of the attorney general has allowed the state to develop well-considered and consistent legal positions concerning the rights of Washington’s citizens and the state of Washington in the courts.

Sen. Gorton also recalls an earlier effort, during his term as AG, to curtain the power of the AGO:

One of my predecessors, Smith Troy, a Democrat who served as attorney general from 1941 to 1953, wrote to the legislative committee considering that bill, urging its defeat. He explained that prior to 1941, a practice had developed where state officers and agencies hired their own counsel. He explained that this had led to a situation where the attorney general “had virtually no control over state litigation, conflicting interpretation of state statutes were being given to various state agencies, and, in general, the situation was, simply stated, a mess.”


In urging defeat of the bill, former Attorney General Troy explained that “any other course of action ... would run counter to an element of the basic system of checks and balances that is fundamental to our form of government.”


The bill died, and rightly so.


We are fortunate in our state government that the office of attorney general provides a legal check and balance in the executive branch. The attorney general’s independent obligation to protect the legal rights of the state and its citizens may cause him or her, on rare occasion, to take legal positions contrary to the desires of individual state officers, but these isolated disagreements should not cause us to doubt the importance of the attorney general’s obligation. It is a hallmark and strength of our form of government. It protects us all.

Well said, Sen. Gorton.

-Dan Sytman-