Inside the Capitol

Thursday, April 07, 2011

4-11 An April Fool Joke Ignored

MON, 4-11-11
SANTA FE – Big talk among some governors about seceding from the union has led to legislative proposals in a few states allowing the state to decide which federal laws it will follow. No state appears to be anywhere close to approving such legislation.
But those legislators should take a look at an April 1, 1988 opinion by New Mexico Attorney General Hal Stratton for some ammunition. Stratton was a no-nonsense type guy in the second year of his term. He had issued numerous controversial opinions, which he said were not political. He was just "calling 'em like he saw 'em."
So when he issued an opinion informing state agencies of six different situations in which they did not have to follow state law, only one person in the capitol press corps took note of it. He reported it as a straight news item.
The three-paragraph press release accompanying the seven-page opinion read as follows.
"Attorney General Hal Stratton released an opinion today describing the circumstances and legal bases under which state government can ignore state law or the constitution.
"Over the past 15 months state officials have stated many reasons for not wanting to comply with state law. After receiving this opinion request, we decided we should research the question and let people know under what circumstances the law can be ignored.
"Of course we chose today to release our opinion to show what we think of our own research. Happy first day of April."
Stratton's press release was somewhat believable. It was the first time since the Depression that we had a Republican attorney general and a Republican governor, Garrey Carruthers. Maybe all those Democratic years had led to some requirements on executive agencies that Republicans felt unreasonable.
But somehow it didn't sound like Stratton. I decided I wanted to read the seven-page opinion as soon as I had time. Two weeks later that time came. I read the opinion and couldn't believe what we all had missed. There were plenty of clues. He mentioned April 1 twice and highlighted it at the top of the page. It should have been big news because of Stratton's controversial nature.
In his seven-page decision Stratton opined that legitimate justification for not following a law include the "time immemorial" exception. If an agency can show one instance when the law was not followed, it does not have to be obeyed. Then there is the "di minimus non curat el stupido" exception declaring that stupid laws don't have to be obeyed.
The "administrative nightmare" rule says if a law requires extra effort it can be ignored. And if a "superior source" can be cited, the law doesn't have to be followed. Stratton suggested Marx, Nietzsche and Woody Allen as fruitful sources. There's also the "Royal Mile" rule and the "superboard" rule.
Evidently all six of the exceptions related to excuses given by agencies for not following the law. And the citations and footnotes are wonderfully clever.
Evidently no one else in the capitol press corps had read this magnificently humorous effort to inform agency heads that they had better start following the law. I immediately contacted Duncan Scott, a top hand in Stratton's office, who said they were surprised and disappointed about getting no press coverage.
I didn't ask if agency heads had been made aware of the attorney general opinion but I bet they did. And they may not have been as amused by the April Fool's joke.
I imagine the public would have enjoyed the joke, considering that Hal Stratton was a household word at the time for his controversial opinions. But only readers of Inside the Capitol got in on the joke.
That's not the only good political April Fool's story. There's one on Heather Wilson from when she was a state cabinet secretary that is even more unusual than this one.


Post a Comment

<< Home