LET THE VOTERS DECIDE WHO QUALIFIES TO BE ATORNEY GENERAL

The controversial subject of what qualifications candidates for state attorney general must have has been raised again with talk that the law should be changed to be less arbitrary and less onerous than those for other constitutional officers. The most recent piece on the subject comes from the estimable Harford Courant reporter Jon Lender. The bottom line on this whole subject is let the voters decide. There are plenty of reasons why the state legislature should take another shot at the unfortunately named “Bysiewicz Bill” and why the current law is ridiculous.

Current law requires candidates for attorney general have 10 years experience in the “active practice of law.” To be governor of Connecticut, one must simply be 30 years old and a resident and registered voter on the day the election held. “The supreme executive power of the state shall be vested in the governor. No person who is not an elector of the state, and who has not arrived at the age of thirty years, shall be eligible,” the Connecticut Constitution says.

Why should the requirements for attorney general be harder to meet than those for governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer and comptroller? And what makes us think than an AG with five years experience can’t be better than one with ten?

The Connecticut Supreme Court complicated the matter with its determination that to qualify as having “active practice of law,” a candidate must have courtroom experience. That’s not written in the Constitution, nor is it in the law that requires the ten years. In essence, the court made it up.

Indeed, in the concurring opinion written by Appellate Court Justice Thomas Bishop (acting in the higher court) joined by Justice Richard Palmer, made it clear that the state Supreme Court should not have gone so far as to impose “courtroom experience” as a necessity for qualifying for AG.

At the very core of the issue is, why are the voters of the state of Connecticut not entitled to decide for themselves who is or isn’t qualified to be AG? The electorate chose Bill ONeill for governor—he once sold insurance, was in the Korean War and then ran a tavern. Governor O’Neill’s story is the epitome of “Let the voters decide!” Yet somehow we have a requirement that the AG have experience interpreted by another branch of government. Let’s not forget that, until recently, probate judges in Connecticut didn’t even have to be lawyers!

A bill to change the AG requirements died in the last session of the General Assembly but will likely be brought back this coming session. Calling it the “Bysiewicz Bill,” believe it or not, makes it harder to pass. (Can you imagine getting Larry Cafero to vote for a bill named after the former secretary of state?) Let’s call it the Constitutional Officers Requirements Fairness Act. Or if you don’t like that, we can always call it the State Unification of Branches Requirement Act—or the “SuB” Requirement Act.