Kane's dangerous precedent
By Brad Bumsted
Published: Saturday, July 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
In November 2014, Gov. Tom Corbett is defeated by Democrat Allyson Schwartz. In this hypothetical scenario, Schwartz then serves alongside fellow Democrat Kathleen Kane, the state attorney general.
A lawsuit is filed challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's “stand your ground” law, approved in 2011 by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Corbett, a Republican. It provides an expanded claim of self-defense for shooting an assailant outside the home — on the street, in a car, in the office.
Kane recently announced she won't defend the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's 1996 law banning gay marriage. She said she could not ethically do so because it is unconstitutional. Under the Commonwealth Attorney's Act, which established the Office of Attorney General, Kane said she is allowed to delegate defense of a lawsuit. It's sent to the General Counsel's Office, which is under the governor. Many matters routinely are deferred. But defending the constitutionality of a statute might be different, former attorneys general say.
The AG's office was established through a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1978. The office was set up separately because Pennsylvanians, fed up with corruption under the Milton Shapp administration, wanted to see the attorney general operate independent of the governor.
So under the hypothetical scenario described above, Kane delegates the case to the general counsel under Schwartz (or any liberal Democrat). But since the general counsel works for the governor, the governor then tells the general counsel he or she is opposed to the stand your ground law and defers to the attorney general.
The net result: Neither the commonwealth's top lawyer, the attorney general, nor the governor's lawyer defend the law.
It is not far-fetched given the uproar over the George Zimmerman case and the killing of Trayvon Martin.
A Florida jury's acquittal of Zimmerman on murder and manslaughter charges prompted calls across the nation for repeal of stand your ground laws. More than 20 other states, including Pennsylvania, have laws similar to Florida's.
But if the commonwealth doesn't defend the law, the plaintiff would win by default. (Any third, private party that might step in to defend the law likely would be found to have no standing.)
The top state lawyer should defend a law approved by the General Assembly and signed by the governor. Lawyers regularly defend cases and defendants they find reprehensible. They are advocates. The attorney general is paid to defend state law.
Kane's move was bold. Pennsylvania polls show a shift toward acceptance of gay marriage. That, however, is not the point.
Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or email@example.com).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Panthers pulling weight for new strength coach
- Kovacevic: Panic over Pirates? In April?
- Undersized rookie Gibbons is blur on ice for Penguins
- Patience pays off as starting pitcher Volquez gets 1st win for Pirates
- Pens insider: Penalty killing a concern in Stanley Cup playoffs
- 4 dead in ‘horrific’ Armstrong County crash
- Murrysville woman sues Giant Eagle over burns
- Pirates should exploit free-swinging Brewers
- Body found on train tracks in West End
- Penn State has hand in discovery of most Earth-like planet yet
- Rice cornerback among 3 draft prospects to visit Steelers