HAYES: The rule of law matters 

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein speaks to reporters on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, in Raleigh, N.C. Stein describes his decision to lay off about 9 percent of his agency's attorneys as well as about two dozen other staffers as a result of a $10 million budget cut forced on the Democrat by the Republican-dominated General Assembly. (AP Photo/Emery Dalesio)

In less than two years, North Carolina’s next Attorney General-elect will place their hand on the Bible and take an oath to “support, maintain and defend the Constitution.” According to statute, it is the duty of the Attorney General “[t]o represent all State departments, agencies, institutions, commissions, bureaus or other organized activities of the State which receive support in whole or in part from the State.”  

Sadly, by this definition, the office is vacant. Josh Stein has wholly abdicated the duties of his office. Time and time again, rather than enforce the law, Stein has been absent. And it has fallen to the General Assembly to take up that role for him. As general counsel for N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, I have witnessed firsthand the disregard our current Attorney General has for the rule of law.  

In fact, I have been on the frontlines. 

Recently, despite having represented the State at trial and on appeal, the Attorney General informed the Speaker’s office that he would not move to lift the injunction on North Carolina’s 20-week abortion ban in the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs. Stein first stated that he had recused himself from the case, then he announced that the Department of Justice would not “take action that would restrict women’s ability to make their own reproductive health care decisions.”  Since we were not a party to the action, we filed an amicus brief on behalf of legislative leaders in support of lifting the injunction, which Federal Judge William Osteen rightly did. 

The same plaintiff recently filed a suit claiming that federal rules surrounding the abortion pill pre-empt North Carolina’s reasonable restrictions on chemical abortions. Although those restrictions are intended to protect women’s health, it came as no surprise when Stein’s Justice Department announced that it agreed with the plaintiff’s legal arguments. Again, regardless of your feelings on the issue of abortion, I would hope that you can agree that the State deserves a defense from the person elected to provide it. Instead, it has fallen to legislative leaders in the General Assembly. 

Another consequence of our Attorney General’s refusal to do his job is that North Carolina taxpayers wind up incurring the additional cost of defending the litigation. This is particularly egregious considering taxpayers already foot the bill for Stein’s salary while he repeatedly fails to do the very job for which he is paid. 

Whether it is reasonable restrictions on abortion, preventing 56,000 convicted felons from voting, or defending North Carolina’s voter ID law, Josh Stein has been absolutely MIA. 

Now, our “aspiring governor” wants a promotion, hoping to succeed Roy Cooper in the Executive Mansion. He has certainly taken the same path to get there. For 23 years, Cooper and Stein have run a political operation disguised as the North Carolina Department of Justice. 

We deserve better. Let’s hope North Carolina’s next Attorney General honors their oath and respects the rule of law. In the meantime, it will inevitably fall to legislative leaders to do his job. 

Sam M. Hayes is General Counsel in the office of N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore