Gov. Paul LePage will appeal a judge’s decision that Attorney General Janet Mills did not exceed her authority by joining a lawsuit in defense of protections for young undocumented immigrants.
Mills joined California and other states in September 2017 in a legal challenge to the Trump administration’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. She was among at least 20 attorneys general nationwide to challenge the president’s move in two lawsuits.
LePage filed a lawsuit in October 2017, arguing that Mills acted without permission required from the Maine Legislature or the governor’s office. Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy issued an order earlier this month that sided with the attorney general.
LePage issued a statement Monday saying he would appeal that decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
The Republican governor and the Democratic attorney general have long clashed over legal issues, including immigration, Medicaid expansion and the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. This latest dispute comes just two weeks shy of the November election, when Mills is on the ballot to replace LePage.
“I am suing Attorney General Janet Mills because she has refused to follow the law in representing the Governor’s Office, and she has explicitly broken the law by suing the federal government in another state without direction from either the Legislature or the Governor,” LePage said. “The Attorney General acts as if she is her own branch of government instead of a department head subject to the direction of the duly elected Legislature. The Democrats in the Legislature are obviously afraid to rein her in so it is left to me once again to call out rogue and unscrupulous behavior when I see it.”
A spokeswoman for the Maine Attorney General’s Office defended Mills’ actions in a statement Monday night.
“The Superior Court has ruled once again that the attorney general is an independent constitutional officer with a right to represent the public interest,” said the spokeswoman, Melissa O’Neal. She added that for six years Mills “has fought to uphold the rule of law while the governor has ignored the checks and balances so vital to our democracy. This attorney general, like attorneys general before her, will continue to uphold the law, to defend the people of Maine and to support the Constitution.”
LePage unsuccessfully sued Mills last year for refusing to represent him in federal lawsuits, including those he joined with other Republican governors. The same judge dismissed a lawsuit he filed to force Mills to pay for private counsel in those cases. Earlier this year, Mills also threatened legal action to force the LePage administration to release nearly $5 million owed to her office for legal services provided to state agencies.
LePage argued that Mills was abusing her power by joining the California lawsuit. But Murphy cited an earlier ruling from Maine’s top court that said the attorney general has “a significant degree of autonomy” and “typically may exercise all such authority as the public interest requires.”
“The Governor cites to the language of the statute, suggesting not unreasonably that the language is clear and unambiguous,” Murphy wrote. “However, as is detailed above, the Law Court has repeatedly interpreted the powers of the Attorney General broadly, allowing that she ‘may institute, conduct, and maintain all such actions and proceedings as (s)he deems necessary for the enforcement of the laws of the State, the preservation of order, and the protection of public rights.’”
Murphy wrote that the current reading of the law allows Mills’ action, and a different interpretation would need to come from the Supreme Judicial Court.