By Daniel Stefanski |
One of Arizona’s county attorneys is taking the lead in pushing back against one of the governor’s recent, controversial executive orders.
Last week, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell went on Arizona Horizon on PBS to talk about her opposition to Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs’ executive order last month, which would “centralize all abortion-related prosecutions under the Attorney General to ensure differences in application of the law by county attorneys do not restrict access to legal abortions.”
Mitchell has consistently framed her counterargument in a way that allows the application of the law to overshadow the divisive issue of abortion. During the interview, Mitchell acknowledged that there were strong feelings on both sides of the abortion debate, saying, “It’s certainly an emotional topic, and I certainly understand why there are very emotional views on both sides.”
Though the Maricopa County Attorney recognizes the feelings for this issue, she is unwavering in her stance on the importance of following the law. She stated, “But the bottom line is that this is a government of laws, not of men – and there is a process for enacting laws in this state – and we have done that. It involves the legislature and the governor – or a referral to the people. And it cannot be governed by just one person’s decision. That is a government of men, and that is something that is just not appropriate – it’s not consistent with the American way of doing business.”
The Republican County Attorney also addressed the argument that the authority of the state’s attorney supersedes that of individual county attorneys, saying, “The attorney general is not the primary prosecutor in the State of Arizona. The primary prosecutors are the various 15 county attorneys, and so they are the ones with the greater jurisdiction – and so the governor cannot just take jurisdiction away from county attorneys who are elected in their own right…. If you look at the jurisdiction of the various county attorneys, it is a more general jurisdiction. The attorney general, for example, she can’t even go into a county grand jury without either my permission or the permission of a judge. Not a governor. So it’s not something where she can just assume someone else’s jurisdiction.”
Mitchell also poked significant holes in the idea that there was even a need in the first place for the governor and attorney general to step in to referee the issue of abortion, adding, “We know that the Dobbs’ decision came out a year ago now, and there has not been a single prosecution brought in any of the 15 counties. So I don’t know who would be considered to be overzealous. What I’m concerned about is somebody who is an extremist in another way, and that is if we set this as a precedent, where a governor thinks that they can strip another elected official’s powers – it may not be a bad thing today to some people, but in the future it may be…. They did not react to a specific case where extremism was occurring. They tried to take all of the power away from elected county attorneys in all circumstances, including cases that don’t involve that – and that is not appropriate. And it’s a very, very frightening precedent to start.”
When asked about her next move in response to the governor’s executive order, Mitchell didn’t completely close the door on being proactive, but instead indicated that her office might wait until conflict arose between the two jurisdictions: “I would have liked to have handled it in a professional way through discussion. I was hoping that the governor, through talking to others as well as the letter, would understand, that there is a better way to handle this, that this is an extremely dangerous precedent. She chose not to, and that’s within her purview. But that does not give her the authority. And so where it goes from here is that we’re going to continue to conduct business as we have for the past year. If a case is submitted – and there have been no cases submitted to me – we’re going to follow the same procedure that we have followed for every other case.”
The first-term county attorney ended her interview on Arizona PBS by announcing her commitment to following the law in this circumstance where she and the governor might take opposing sides. Mitchell reiterated that Hobbs’ “executive order doesn’t have the authority of overcoming the law,” and that “the law trumps executive orders and the constitution trumps the law.
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.