by Alexander Chang (’23) | March 21, 2022
In an age of fervently partisan politics, polarization has made its way into all aspects of American life. Today’s hyperfixation on the latest partisan battle, however, hinders us from taking a step back and evaluating a core pillar of democracy: the judicial branch.
The primary source of legal counsel for state governments is the State Attorneys General (SAGs) across all fifty states. SAGs direct and handle a variety of legal matters ranging from the criminal justice system to civil matters (such as consumer advocacy). The items on their agendas, however, have become noticeably more partisan in recent years. Both sides of the political aisle have created their own Attorney’s General associations, including the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) and the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) respectively––to push forward political agendas on a state by state basis.
The substantial increase in lawsuits filed by SAGs through their party is a crucial way associations are shifting the judicial system towards “their side.” The Obama Administration saw a significant increase in lawsuits filed by Republican SAGs in response to the passing of the Affordable Care Act in order to limit its expansion. Yet the issues with partisanship in regards to SAGs not only extends to lawsuits, but to the entire position as a whole. Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas permitted local officials to refuse to provide same-sex couples marriage licenses in direct defiance to the Supreme Court’s decision on Obergefell v. Hodges.
This partisanship has also not gone unnoticed by private interests. Both DAGA and RAGA offer corporate agents exclusive access to SAGs in exchange for campaign financing and fundraising. An investigation in 2018 into a RAGA convention held in South Carolina revealed fraternization between nine Republican SAGs and representatives from private interests such as the NRA, Koch Industries, and payday lenders; more than half of the donors at the event currently had matters under consideration in state courts or had recently settled.
SAGs are sadly a symptom of the larger shift towards partisanship in American politics, especially in the judicial branch. As talk about increasing the number of Supreme Court justices grows, so should concerns over the future of America’s legal system. If those in power are more incentivized to peddle party politics instead of establishing rule of law, the future of the nation will be grim, and the checks and balances that protect Americans will wither.
Policy alone will unfortunately not address this issue. Reform is needed on a systematic scale. Both major political parties, however, seem more than willing to drift further apart and drag their supporters along with them. The solution, albeit temporary, will have to rest on the American public. Thirty SAG seats will be up for grabs this year. For a position that wields vast amounts of influence and power, it is our responsibility as constituents to elect the people we trust to take the politics out of our judiciary system. Without change, the minor cuts in our judicial system could very well become unhealable scars.