Lawmakers in the last few states without elected attorneys general are seeking to change how they take office.
Take New Jersey. There, Republican Attorney General John Hoffman defended a gay marriage ban and refused to enforce strict gun laws—both of which enjoyed public support. His actions were seen as beneficial to the man who appointed him, Gov. Chris Christie, so a lawmaker is now seeking to neuter that relationship by making the office an elected and not an appointed one.
“Our constitution has created this tremendous power for the governor, and a lot of people think that regardless of who’s in — whether Republican or Democrat — that’s too much authority,” State Sen. Peter Barnes (D) told the Star-Ledger.
But New Jersey’s not alone. Attorneys general are elected in 43 states and there are movements in some of the seven remaining to change things. A similar bill in Wyoming—whose sponsor said it wasn’t motivated by any one event—would have made attorney general an elected position but it died early in the session. And, in Alaska, it’s been a perennial issue for a decade now.
Attorneys general are appointed in two other states, Hawaii and New Hampshire, while the position is filled by a secret ballot of the legislature in Maine and the state Supreme Court in Tennessee, according to the National Association of Attorneys General. And, in Tennessee, there’s a move not to make it an elected position but to shift the power of hiring an attorney general to the legislature and governor.
The role has received scrutiny in recent years as seven Democratic attorneys general have refused to uphold their state same-sex marriage bans. Attorney General Eric Holder recently said he supports those decisions based on legal judgment, to which Republican state attorneys general quickly responded saying they would uphold their state bans.