I was interested and surprised with the guest columnist J. Christian Adams’ recent column, “AG Stein flunks the ethics test” on Tuesday. In that column, he implies that the current attorney general cannot decide whether to defend an appeal to the Supreme Court to preserve voter ID; and how it is somehow an ethics violation if he does not continue with this fight.
His citing of the Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys in North Carolina is half-cited and misguided at best. The attorney general does not, as is the premise of his column, represent the N.C. General Assembly and do everything its members say or pass in their sessions.
In fact, it is the duty of every attorney to advise his or her client of the constitutionality of each and every argument or action that the client takes. Here, it is clear that neither AG Stein nor Governor Cooper, when he was AG, were ever asked or solicited to provide such advice to the General Assembly. Instead, this bill was passed and defending it was thrust upon the Attorney General’s Office. He can make any decision to defend, or not defend, this law, or others, such as this Voter ID Act. We are, after all, talking about the Voter ID Act passed by the General Assembly, a law that has been described by the Fourth Circuit in its unanimous decision as targeting African-Americans “with almost surgical precision and imposing cures for problems that did not exist.”
Rather than beat up on AG Stein for this ethically correct and morally righteous decision, maybe the columnist should focus on the fact that AG Stein has been reaching across the aisle and joining with Republican lawmakers to unveil the “STOP Act,” which is a plan to address the state’s opioid abuse problems. Not only would this act put more restrictions on the dispensing and proscribing of these often dangerous drugs, it also seeks funds to help treat those who become addicted and need help for recovery. It was actually nice to see articles and reports where the AG and republican lawmakers were doing something for the good of North Carolina, not to encourage even more bitter discourse among citizens.
We as citizens need to continue to encourage our lawmakers and leaders to focus on the real problems and needs of the citizens of North Carolina. AG Stein and any lawmakers who join forces in accomplishing this without looking at party affiliation should be commended. As for the N.C. Voter ID Act, it may be a good idea for the lawmakers to simply ask the AG if their next law will pass constitutional muster before passing it and costing North Carolinians money and embarrassment in the court system.
William M.J. Farris is a lawyer with Farris & Farris Attorneys in Wilson and a past chairman of the Wilson County Democratic Party.