Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has gone to federal court to represent Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s attempts to ban same-sex marriage and Syrian refugees.
The state lost both cases; same-sex marriage ultimately became legal and Indiana’s ban on accepting Syrian refugees was lifted.
Zoeller will not seeking re-election.
However, University of Virginia law professor Saikrishna Prakash said attorneys general get to decide if they’re going to go to court to defend statutes. Democratic candidate Lorenzo Arredondo and Republican candidate Curtis Hill said they will not necessarily defend positions taken by the governor or legislature
If elected, Hill would become the first African-American Republican to become Indiana attorney general. Arredondo would become the state’s first Hispanic to be elected to a any state-wide office.
Arredondo, 74, of East Chicago, Ind., served 30 years as a circuit court judge in Lake County, Ind.
“The problem in recent years has been that people have based their decision on an ideological or political agenda,” Arredondo said. “This is what I am trying to get away from. I would not waste my time, or taxpayers’ money, in being involved in lawsuits that you either can’t defend or you can’t win.”
Hill, who has served as the prosecutor in Elkhart County since 2002, takes a similar stance, but has also indicated he would fight for conservative social values.
One of Hill’s primary campaign issues is pushing back against alleged ‘overreach” by the federal government.
“Is it a violation of the 10th amendment of the Constitution? … Is it an issue that does not belong with the federal government to tell Indiana people what to do,” Hill asked in an interview with Indiana Public Broadcasting.
Gary Democratic Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson has been critical of the state’s conservative policies, especially if it means continued challenges to Obamacare.
“In this case, the governor has made a decision: We’re going to do that, we’re not going to do this. We’re going to do it in violation of federal law. We’re going to ignore the federal law,” said Freeman-Wilson, who was the second African-American woman to serve as Indiana attorney general from 2000 to 2001. “At some point, your lawyer has to sit you down and say, not only is this an unjust position, it’s a position that will cost the taxpayers money.”
Prakash said attorneys general have the authority not to defend statutes.
“Attorneys general are coming to the conclusion, and growing numbers are coming to that conclusion, that they have that authority. It is contested,” Prakash said. “That is to say some people say you should be defending all statutes, and others say no they have this authority. In practice, they are doing this.”
But most attorneys general are elected, so it often times comes down to politics.
“It’s now a way for attorneys general to curry favor with interest groups, and it’s a way for them to further their political careers by deciding when and when not to defend statutes,” Prakash said.
Michael Puente is WBEZ’s Northwest Indiana reporter. Follow him on Twitter @MikePuenteNews.