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Idaho Legislature will hire private attorney to defend state’s abortion law

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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — The Idaho Legislature has hired a private attorney to defend a restrictive abortion law against a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood.

The health care provider filed a lawsuit against the state last month after Gov. Brad Little signed the new law, which would allow family members to sue abortion providers for a minimum of $20,000. The bill was slated to take effect 30 days after Little signed it but put on hold pending the results of the lawsuit.

RELATED | Idaho lawmakers intervene in lawsuit against abortion ban

The Idaho Supreme Court on Monday granted the Legislature’s petition to join the case. A private law firm last week filed the lawmakers’ petition, which argued that the Legislature deserved to be party to the lawsuit as it will be affected by the outcome.

House Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, said the Legislature will be represented by Morris, Bower & Haws in the proceedings. The Legislature has a fund from taxpayer money set aside to defend laws that are challenged on its constitutional merits, though it’s unclear how the firm will be paid.

ATTORNEY GENERAL CRITICIZED FOR LEGAL OPINION

The attorney general’s office is tasked with representing the governor and Legislature in legal challenges. But in its petition, the Legislature said the attorney general’s office compromised its ability to defend the legislative body by expressing a legal opinion.

The Legislature criticized the attorney general’s office, which said in a legal opinion that the legislation was likely unconstitutional. Little also “inserted himself into the present legal debate” by saying that the civil enforcement mechanism of the law might prove unconstitutional, the petition said.

The petition included concerns over the attorney general’s willingness to “vigorously” defend the Legislature. It points out that Planned Parenthood has used Little and Kane’s criticism as evidence of the abortion law’s unconstitutionality.

“Because of the governor’s letter and the opinion of the attorney general’s office, the belief is well nigh inescapable that the Idaho attorney general’s office may be muted, even compromised, in its advocacy for the Legislature and legislative power,” the petition states.

Lawmakers said Planned Parenthood’s argument that the abortion law undermines executive authority “pits legislative power against executive power,” putting the attorney general’s office in an awkward place.

“The Legislature is not simply defending challenged legislation, it is defending its authority as it relates to Idaho’s executive branch of government,” the petition said.

Katie Rodihan, communications director for Planned Parenthood Great Northwest Hawaii, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky, said Tuesday that the Legislature’s participation in the case “does not change the fact that this law is blatantly unconstitutional.”

“We are confident in our case and confident that the court will conclude, just as Gov. Little said in his signing letter, that the law is ‘unconstitutional and unwise,’” Rodihan said in an email.

State Politics Reporter Ryan Suppe contributed to this report.

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