If Maine had an Attorney General (AG) that was publicly elected, Janet Mills would, and should, be out of a job. Mills’ frequent reluctance to execute the important responsibilities of her office is not simply irresponsible, but unprecedented throughout the history of Maine AG’s. No other current, nor recent, state AG has behaved in a way as disruptive to their state’s constitutional balance of powers as Mills.
To understand what motivates her behavior, one must look at two underlying causes. First is her clear intention to advance partisan goals, while neither competently executing the responsibilities, nor respecting the limitations of her office. The second is her desire to score political points by publicly opposing conservative policies and politicians.
Such motives are evident in her actions, which create serious problems for our state government. She continuously interjects herself into frivolous political skirmishes, within and between the elected state branches, impeding the government’s ability to operate efficiently.
Taxpayers bear the burden of Mills’ politicking, as her office wastes state time and resources on partisan battles. Such disregard for taxpayer money isn’t surprising from an AG notorious for repeatedly overspending her budget.
The AG’s office is meant to be an objective, non-politicized office. Its functions include enforcement of state statutes, rules, and regulations, and the legal representation of the state in court. However, as a zealous partisan, Mills exploits her post to further her political agenda.
Mills has used the authorities of her office like a veto, impeding any acts by our state government contradicting her political beliefs. She does so in her frequent opposition to or refusals to comply with enforcing statutes, rules, and policies running contrary to her agenda, despite being approved by the elected representatives of the Maine people. Such behavior is widely cited in scholarship as being traits found in the most incompetent AG’s. Janet Mills effectually circumvents democratic processes of government by cherry picking the legal and policy positions that will materialize in governmental operations, and which will not.
When the Governor challenged a provision in the ACA that prohibited Medicaid eligibility cuts to able-bodied 19 and 20-year-olds without dependents, Mills did what no other Maine AG had. She refused to provide legal representation for the state in court. In legal disputes between states and the federal government, AG’s have a duty to represent their state in court. In half a century, state AG’s have only refused this duty thirty-four times—never once in Maine. Evidently, she executes official responsibilities only when it ultimately serves her agenda, which is evidently prioritized above that of the Maine people.
Furthermore, she insisted that she still retain power over directing the state’s litigation, even after publicly endorsing the contrary legal position in the lawsuit. She tried to cap funding for the hiring of private counsel, which was necessary to provide the legal representation she had refused to perform, at $500,000. This amount falls drastically short of the funding necessary to pursue litigation in federal courts. She knew the state would never be able to successfully pursue the lawsuit with such relatively meager funds, reflecting an intentional effort to watch the State of Maine fail in court.
Her manipulative efforts continued only until the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ordered that she no longer meddle with the litigation strategies of the state. Her sole argument in the brief submitted contested that the Court lacked authority to opine because this scenario didn’t present a solemn occasion, as required by the Maine Constitution.
It is an extremely rare, though not unheard of, situation for an AG to decline to represent their state. According to a study in The Yale Law Journal, not once have Maine AG’s refused to represent the state in litigation until Mills, who has done so twice in four years. Her predecessor, Steven Rowe, answering questions on an AG’s “duty to defend” the state in lawsuit said, “My obligation and duty is to defend statutes enacted by the Legislature.” Apparently she doesn’t find herself obligated by the responsibilities upheld by literally every AG before her.
One has to give her credit for at least one thing, adding to the already alarming degree of political gridlock in Augusta. Perhaps an Attorney General chosen through popular vote would exhibit more appropriate and professional conduct. For the moment, however, Maine is stuck with Janet Mills, ‘Attorney in Chief.’