Controversy over Illinois Governor’s Amicus Brief in Friedrichs

Among the slew of amicus briefs submitted on behalf of the petitioners in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, one brief in particular is starting to attract some extra attention. The New York Times reported today on an ongoing battle between Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and the state’s attorney general, Lisa Madigan, over an amicus brief filed on behalf of “Bruce Rauner, Governor of Illinois” and certain administrative staff of an Illinois school district. In a letter submitted to the Supreme Court earlier this month, Illinois Solicitor General Carolyn Shapiro alleged that the filing was “unauthorized” because “neither the governor nor his attorneys have the authority, as a matter of state law, to represent the state or its officials in any court or to determine the state’s litigation positions.”

Writing in his own letter to the Court, the governor’s general counsel initially claimed that the brief was filed “only in [Governor Rauner’s] individual capacity.” However, Solicitor General Shapiro responded by pointing out that the governor’s brief “makes no such claim” and moreover, that “it would be unlawful for . . . state employees paid from public tax revenues . . . to represent Mr. Rauner in his individual capacity in any matter.” The governor’s staff subsequently clarified in an email to the Times that Governor Rauner “‘filed the brief in his official capacity’ but ‘was speaking on behalf of his office only.'”

The Times notes that although “[t]he charges in Ms. Shapiro’s letters may be correct, . . . it is hard to see what they accomplish” given that “[s]he did not ask the Supreme Court to reject the governor’s brief” and may in fact “have piqued the justices’ interest in it.” Rather than seeking the brief’s rescission, suggests Professor Neal Devins of William & Mary Law School, “[p]erhaps the A.G. wants to signal to home state constituents that the governor is lawless and is seeking political advantage by embarrassing him.” Notably, Illinois was the site of the most recent clash over union fees to land before the Supreme Court, Harris v. Quinn.

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