News

Hick to AG Cynthia Coffman: Stop Suing the Feds Without My Okay


An October 23 press release announced that Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman had joined a "bipartisan group of 23 states" challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's "Clean Power Plan."

The plan "is an attempt to expand federal power over the States through administrative regulation in violation of the law,” Coffman said in a statement, adding, “Coloradans value the environment, and our state continues to be a national leader in establishing clean energy standards. We’ve proven again and again that good environmental policy can be developed and implemented successfully by Coloradans, and within the bounds of the law. This rule fits neither description.”

The conservative blog Colorado Peak Politics was thrilled by Coffman's action, beginning the headline of its post about the move with the words "SUE 'EM!"

But Governor John Hickenlooper was considerably less enthusiastic — which explains why his office has now petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court for a decision about whether Coffman can file lawsuits against the federal government without his authorization.


We've included the entire petition below, but the following excerpt neatly summarizes objections by Hickenlooper, a Democrat, not only to the October suit, but also two prior ones filed by Coffman, a Republican:
The Attorney General’s lawsuits interfere with the Governor’s execution of Colorado laws involving clean air, clean water, and energy. In April, June, and October of this year, the Attorney General unilaterally enmeshed our State in ideologically charged lawsuits against the federal government: (1) in Wyoming, over fracking rules; (2) in North Dakota, over clean water rules; and, most recently, (3) in Washington, D.C., over clean power rules. The Governor had determined as a matter of policy to work cooperatively with, not sue, the federal government and that policy was working until an Attorney General lawsuit halted what had been productive state and federal negotiations.
Coffman appears to have anticipated this maneuver. How else to explain the timing of an October 30 op-ed entitled "The Colorado Attorney General Must Retain Independent Authority to Sue"? That offering is also shared here, but the following section presents the gist of her argument:
Colorado law clearly grants the Attorney General the ability to take independent legal action in the public interest. If, as the Governor asserts, only he can determine when Colorado files or joins a lawsuit, he can prevent important legal questions from being put before our courts simply because he wishes to avoid conflict with this Administration.

Thankfully, the framers of the State Constitution chose a system of government that includes a plural executive — a system in which the powers of the executive branch are diffused so they cannot be wielded by a single person. Each statewide elected official has their own authority and the Attorney General's is to uphold the rule of law.
In this case, Coffman's interpretation of that law neatly dovetails with the anti-Obama agenda — one about which Hickenlooper plainly disagrees.

Here's the Colorado Supreme Court petition from Hickenlooper's office, followed by Coffman's editorial.

John Hickenlooper Petition re: Cynthia Coffman

Cynthia Coffman Editorial



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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts