(Promoted by Colorado Pols)
Attorney General John Suthers and chief deputy AG Cynthia Coffman.
In a long question-and-answer story in Westword, Attorney General John Suthers once again lays out his case that he is duty-bound to defend Colorado’s same-sex marriage ban until the bitter end. (Which isn’t bitter, actually, because everyone expects the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn such bans.)
Sounding all above-the-fray and bipartisany, Suthers tells Westword about his high-minded commitment to defend Colorado’s laws, even when he disagrees with them.
It sounds like maybe a beautiful thing, if it were true. But it’s not.
Left out of the Westword interview (and other media coverage of Suthers’ position) is the fact that under Colorado law, our Attorney General doesn't have to defend laws (and constitutional amendments) that he deems unconstitutional. In fact, he’s supposed to go after those laws.
As former Deputy Attorney General Don Quick, a Democratic candidate for Attorney General, wrote in The Colorado Springs Gazette in July:
Quick: First, the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously ruled in 2003 that it is the attorney general's job to challenge a law when there are concerns about its constitutionality. I remember it well, as I was chief deputy to Attorney General Ken Salazar when the court ruled in our favor. Coffman knows this also, as her office did the same thing last year. The Legislature passed a law restricting the display of marijuana-related magazines, and the Attorney General's Office refused to defend it because it believed it was unconstitutional.
Quick is referring Cynthia Coffman, a Republican who’s running against Quick to replace Suthers. Coffman, who believes marriage is between a man and a woman and works in Suthers’ office, has embraced the Attorney General’s view that he had no choice but to defend Colorado’s ban on same-sex marriage.
The 2003 Colorado Supreme Court ruling, to which Quick refers, involved the infamous effort by Colorado Republicans, challenged by Salazar at the time, to change Colorado’s congressional districts after they’d been established by court order subsequent to the 2000 Census. The decision delivered by Chief Justice Mullarkey stated that if the Attorney General has “grave doubts” about the constitutionality of a law (in this exact case an election-related law affecting an upcoming election) he or she must, “consistent with his ethical duties and his oath of office,” seek to “resolve those doubts," meaning, in this narrow case, file a lawsuit (consolidated cases 03SA133 and 03SA147).
What’s more, attorneys general in at least six states, decided not to defend their states' same-sex marriage bans. And U.S. Attorney General Eric holder has advised state attorneys general, like Suthers, that they are not obliged to defend state laws they see as discriminatory.