The Democratic candidate for Ohio attorney general says if elected this November, he’ll make voting rights a key priority of his office. ideastream's Nick Castele reports.
David Pepper says he’d create a unit within the attorney general’s Civil Rights Division to investigate reports of voter intimidation, suppression or fraud. He says he’d also inform legislators if a bill created voting restrictions he found to be unconstitutional.
And he says if the General Assembly passes new voting rules laws he concludes are unconstitutional, he’ll file a court brief saying so -- and he says in some cases he may decline to defend them in court.
“If the legislature is violating the constitutional rights of your citizens, the attorney general doesn’t simply blindly defend constitutional violations," Pepper said. "The attorney general as a separate officeholder has the duty to speak out on behalf of citizens’ constitutional rights.”
Current Attorney General Mike DeWine agrees he can speak out against laws he finds unconstitutional. But he says it’s the AG’s job to defend state law.
“You always have an obligation to defend the state," DeWine said. "What we did in one particular case where we felt that the law was unconstitutional, clearly unconstitutional, my office still defended that case.”
That case involved a law against false elections advertising. While his office defended the law, DeWine also filed a friend-of-the-court brief questioning its constitutionality.
Pepper says he’d have done the same thing with laws limiting early voting hours in 2012, and changing ballot access rules for third parties. DeWine’s office helped defend those, but didn’t protest their constitutionality, and judges later blocked them -- though DeWine has appealed the ruling on third parties.