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Pennsylvania

AG Kane won't defend NRA-backed law on firearms rules

| Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, 3:42 p.m.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane fields questions from the audience at a community drug forum at the Penn Hills Library on Saturday, April 5, 2014.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane fields questions from the audience at a community drug forum at the Penn Hills Library on Saturday, April 5, 2014.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane fields questions from the audience at a community drug forum at the Penn Hills Library on Saturday, April 5, 2014, in this file photo.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane fields questions from the audience at a community drug forum at the Penn Hills Library on Saturday, April 5, 2014, in this file photo.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is stepping away from defending a state law designed to make it easier for gun owners and member groups to sue local municipalities, raising questions about her application of state law.

Passed this fall, the National Rifle Association-backed statute responds to local ordinances that place stricter requirements on gun ownership than state law. The city of Pittsburgh, along with Philadelphia, Lancaster and several state lawmakers, brought a lawsuit against the state Nov. 10 challenging that the law wasn't passed in accordance with parts of the state constitution designed to create a transparent, fair legislative process.

Kane's office said it was more efficient and in the best interest of Pennsylvania for the governor's lawyers to defend the law. A spokesman for Gov. Tom Corbett said the governor's legal office will defend the law against the challenge.

“We can find no legitimate reason for the attorney general to decline to defend the commonwealth in this case,” spokesman Jay Pagni said.

This is the second time Kane has stepped aside from defending a state statute. Last year, Kane, a Democrat, refused to defend Pennsylvania's law banning the recognition of same-sex marriage against a federal lawsuit. Corbett's office unsuccessfully defended the law, and it was struck down in May.

Corbett leaves office Jan. 20 after losing last month's election, and he will be replaced by Democrat Tom Wolf, who has said he opposes the law. On Friday, a spokesman would only say that Wolf will review all existing litigation once he takes office.

House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, said the constitution and the laws governing the Office of Attorney General are clear. Per the Commonwealth Attorneys Act: “It shall be the duty of the Attorney General to uphold and defend the constitutionality of all statutes.”

Reed said it “causes a great deal of concern that, once again, Attorney General Kane announced she will not defend the constitutionality of a duly enacted law.”

Rep. Tim Krieger, R-Delmont, said Kane has neither the authority to veto legislation, nor the right to render a decision about constitutionality.

“Certainly, defending the process by which the legislation was passed, regardless of whether she would, as a judge, rule that the law was properly enacted, should be no great burden, either ethically or morally,” Krieger said. “Every day in the courts of this Commonwealth attorneys make arguments on procedural matters in cases where they may harbor doubts about the correctness of their client's position.”

A spokesman for Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, said on Friday: “Kathleen Kane defends the state all the time, however, she's under no obligation to take an untenable position on any lawsuit.”

Kane's decision is “absurd,” said Bruce Ledewitz, law professor and constitutional expert at Duquense University. Even if she disagrees with the content of the legislation, the thrust of the lawsuit is over whether the way it was passed violates the “single subject” rule of the state constitution, not whether she agrees with the content.

“I bet you'd be hard pressed to find any precedent anywhere else of an attorney general refusing to take up defense of a statute on a purely procedural challenge,” Ledewitz said.

The Association Press contributed. Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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