January 12, 2017
A California GOP lawmaker is challenging the hiring of former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to fight the Trump administration, saying it may violate the California Constitution.
Assemblyman Kevin Kiley has asked the California Attorney General’s office to investigate whether legislative Democrats ran afoul of the law by retaining Holder and his law firm, Covington & Burling, for $25,000 per month to do a job that can be performed by state employees.
Holder was hired last week by the California legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, as outside counsel to provide advice on “our efforts to resist any attempts to roll back the progress California has made” on issues such as climate change to immigration.
But Kiley cited a court ruling that said the state Constitution forbids hiring outside consultants for roles that can be carried out “adequately and competently’ by those in the civil service, including work “defending California against federal actions.”
“In light of these facts, I respectfully ask your legal opinion as to whether the 1,592 attorneys and legal staff at the State Attorney General’s Office can perform ‘adequately and competently’ the legal services for which Covington & Burling has been retained by the Legislature,” said the Republican Kiley in his letter.
Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes said he supports the inquiry, calling it “certainly appropriate to request a legal opinion as to whether this contract is consistent with state law.”
“To say that the move by Capitol Democrats to spend significant taxpayer dollars on yet another lawyer is unusual, when the state already employs thousands of attorneys, is an understatement,” Mayes said. “Not to mention the fact that we are currently in the process of confirming a new attorney general for the state.”
A spokesman for Kiley said he has not yet received a response to his Jan. 6 query, but California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon has argued that the attorney general’s office is not the legislature’s legal counsel.
“The Attorney General defends the state. We’ve enlisted Covington to provide us with legal advice about what we as a legislature can do and how we can react to the Trump administration,” Rendon said at a press conference. “It’s different functions.”
During President Obama’s tenure, a number of red states filed high-profile challenges to policies such as Obamacare and the Clean Power Plan, but those were issued by state attorneys general.
California Republicans have blasted the Holder hiring as a political stunt, while Rendon said the move was necessary to “protect California from the reckless overreach we expect from Donald Trump and the Republican members of Congress who have so cravenly enabled him.”
Holder served as U.S. Attorney General in the Obama administration from 2009-2015.
“We’re certainly trying to defend ourselves. We’re not going to take anything they offer us laying down. If the administration wants to talk to California, I’m sure that we’re willing to do so,” Rendon said. “That being said, we need to be prepared for what they might do on day one.”
Republicans have countered that Rep. Xavier Becerra, the Democrat nominated to succeed Kamala Harris as California Attorney General, is well-versed in federal issues after spending 12 years in Congress.
At an Assembly committee hearing on the nomination, Becerra took jabs at the Trump administration while Gov. Jerry Brown described the nominee as a “‘battle-tested’ candidate seasoned by the polarized political atmosphere in Washington, D.C.,” the Recorder reported.
The Assembly is scheduled to vote Friday on the Becerra nomination, which was approved by the committee 6-3