Monday, February 3, 2014
Cooper, a Democrat who has held his current office for 13 years, has come out publicly against North Carolina's gay marriage ban, its voting reform legislation and certain changes to abortion laws. At the same time, he says he will vigorously defend the state's laws in court.
Most recently, advocates are pressuring Cooper not to defend the state against a challenge to Amendment One, the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Cooper insists he will defend the law: "North Carolina should change its laws to allow marriage equality, and I believe basic fairness eventually will prevail," Cooper said. "However, when legal arguments exist to defend a law, it is the duty of the Office of the Attorney General under North Carolina law to make those arguments in court."
Cooper is right about his duty, but this does not sit well with gay-rights groups and many Democrats. They want Cooper to follow the lead of fellow AGs such as Mark Herring of Virginia. Herring has declared Virginia's marriage law unconstitutional and refuses to defend it.
North Carolina's gay marriage law is outdated and discriminatory. But as Cooper says, it's his job to argue in court on behalf of the state if at all possible.
Colorado's attorney general, John W. Suthers, writes in Sunday's Washington Post that Herring and other AGs have "abused the power entrusted" to them by refusing to defend their states' laws on gay marriage. It's one thing not to defend a law for which there has been an unequivocal ruling from the Supreme Court, he says. It's quite another to just pick and choose which ones to defend based on your personal politics.
"I fear that refusing to defend unpopular or politically distasteful laws will ultimately weaken the legal and moral authority that attorneys general have earned and depend on," Suthers writes. "We will become viewed as simply one more player in a political system rather than as legal authorities in a legal system. The courts, the governments we represent and, most important, the people we serve will treat our pronouncements and arguments with skepticism and cynicism."
Cooper is doing his job by defending the gay marriage ban. But by putting up a web video last week attacking McCrory and legislative Republicans on things such as the voting rights bill and "a culture war" on minorities, Cooper gives legislative Republicans good reason to wonder how crisply he will be able to separate his political views from his arguments in court, which are diametrically opposed.
The Observer editorial board, in an October editorial, lamented Cooper's outspokenness. "Like the Republicans he's criticized," we said, "he let ideology and ambition get in the way of what's best for North Carolina."
New campaign finance reports show that Cooper has about $1 million on hand for his next run for office. That's almost as much as McCrory, who has $1.3 million in the bank. It looks like Cooper has every intention of tiptoeing that high-wire all the way til 2016.
-- Taylor Batten
Posted by The Observer Editorial Board at 12:52 PM