Attorney General Candidates Spar Over When To Defend State Laws

Happ, Schimel Disagree On Whether It's Appropriate To Defend Voter ID

Susan Happ, left, and Brad Schimel. Images courtesy of WPT.

State Attorney General candidates Susan Happ and Brad Schimel spent some time during their first debate continuing an argument over the defense of state laws.

Happ, a Democratic district attorney in Jefferson County, has said throughout her campaign that in rare cases, the attorney general should be able to decline to defend the state when Wisconsin laws are challenged.

“The attorney general is not a robot. The attorney general has to be able to look at the law, compare it to the Constitution and determine if it passes constitutional muster,” said Happ at the debate, which took place at Marquette University Law School on Sunday.

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Schimel, a Republican district attorney in Waukesha County, has maintained a stance that attorney generals have a responsibility to defend all state laws: “You’re not a robot when you defend the laws the way they’re written,” he said.

Schimel and Happ revisited the issue on Sunday with the fresh example of Wisconsin’s voter ID law. Last Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the law from being enforced in Wisconsin this fall. Happ said that it was a good move.

“The concern I had was that we had this law going into effect so close … to the election,” she said.

Schimel said if the Supreme Court eventually decides to rule on the merits of Wisconsin’s law, he’d be there to defend it.

“Right now, our law is constitutional,” said Schimel. “The U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t said otherwise. Of course the attorney general is going to defend that, if I’m the attorney general.”

Schimel conceded that months ago he said he wouldn’t have defended the state’s domestic partner registry, but he’s since withdrawn that statement. Schimel also said he’s not sure if he agrees with incumbent Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s announcement that he won’t defend a Wisconsin law that limits campaign coordination with outside groups.