What Does the Attorney General Do?

Lessons From Coach Phil: An Introduction

Whenever I began teaching a new class at the University of Colorado Law School, I told my students, “Please call me Phil or Professor Weiser, whatever you’re more comfortable with.”  And I would always add, “If you’re not comfortable with either, please call me Coach.”  Over the years, a significant number of students have taken me up on the third option, calling me “Coach Phil.”

As I take on this campaign to be Colorado’s next Attorney General, one of the core challenges I face is that most Coloradans don’t know that they have an Attorney General or they don’t know what the office does.  For me, this challenge is an opportunity to teach.

So I’ve created a series of videos and blog posts to explain my plan to represent all Coloradans and lead the Attorney General’s office as a force for progress in our state.  The first video in this series is my Introduction to the Teaching Series.  The second one is What Does the AG’s Office Do?  Please watch them both and forward them to anyone you know who would like to learn more about our Attorney General’s office.

Read below for more information about the set of posts and videos to come (as well as some of those we’ve already shared).

Watch the Video Below:

A New Kind of Leadership

One reason so many Americans are cynical about government is that some public officials play political stunts or allow their offices to run on autopilot.  Under our current Attorney General, we see both problems in full view.

In the political stunt category, the lawsuit that our current Attorney General (AG) brought against Boulder County on its moratorium on oil and gas drilling is a case in point.  The fact that this lawsuit was brought without first reaching out to Boulder County to explore possible solutions underscores that there was very little interest on the part of our AG in solving a problem.  Rather, the goal of this case was to make a political punching bag out of Boulder County.  Indeed, as Boulder County did address the issue (announcing its oil and gas development ordinance shortly after the case was filed), the case was quickly dismissed and widely criticized as a ploy, leading to a bipartisan rebuke.  But for localities, the damage from this case was done.  Our AG had established that she would rather play political games than collaborate to ensure the legal and safe management of oil and gas development.

The challenge of inertia presents a very different threat than political stunts.  In the case of inertia, an agency continues to address an issue the way it has previously, never asking if there is a better way. The results of inertia can be devastating.  Consider the Obama Administration’s terrible rollout of the healthcare.gov website, for example.  In the case of our AG’s office, consider a recent embarrassing loss where the judge sanctioned the office and called the lack of evidence behind the case “breathtaking and amateurish.”  These mistakes happen because people stop asking basic questions like “Is this the right way to solve this problem?” or “Is this case focused on a problem that needs to be solved?”

As our next Attorney General, I will bring principled and innovative leadership to the office.  This means that the office will always focus on problem solving and asking how we can make progress on a range of issues.  As I explain in my video on What Does the AG’s Office Do?, the AG’s Office has a range of tools at its disposal.  For me, it’s important that we keep them all in mind and take an innovative approach to problem solving by finding the best way to address issues—and not simply relying on the way they have been handled in the past.  I discuss the importance of an innovative mindset in this blog post and this video.

The Core Priorities of the Office

Since announcing my candidacy, I have emphasized that our Attorney General needs to defend our freedoms, fight for opportunity for all Coloradans, and protect our land, air, and water.   In the series of videos and posts to follow, I will offer more elaboration on these core commitments and how our Attorney General should advance these important goals.

Defending Our Freedoms and Fighting for Equality

I’m proud of our constitutional democracy, and I’m running for Attorney General because our country’s commitment to freedom is being tested.  Our Founders envisioned a world where Congress would be responsible for overseeing the executive branch.  Today, however, only one branch of government is functioning effectively—our independent federal courts.  As I explain in my New Separation of Powers’ blog post, State AGs across the country have stepped up to fight for our freedoms and to defend equality, providing a valuable check on executive branch overreaches, such as the decision to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military.  Our AG in Colorado has not stepped up, however, remaining complicit with actions that undermine equality, freedoms, and our democracy.

My vision for the Attorney General’s office is to serve as a force for protecting our freedoms and our democracy.  This is something I talk a lot about on the campaign trail.  As a first-generation American, I grew up with a love of this country.  And I am inspired by Ben Franklin’s observation and caution that he told Americans after the Constitution was drafted:  “you have a Republic, as long as you can keep it.”

I served as a law clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg when several historic Supreme Court cases about equality were decided, including the landmark Romer v. Evans case that protected the rights of gays and lesbians and US v. Virginia, which called for the admission of women into the Virginia Military Institute.  But continued progress toward equal justice for all cannot be taken for granted.  We as citizens cannot be complacent about these issues; we must be engaged, work with responsible leaders, and have moral courage to make progress.  As Attorney General, I will fight for equality for all and I will challenge discrimination in all its forms. Fighting for progress on the issues of race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and identity, and gender is part of my life’s work, and I will continue that work as your Attorney General.

Fighting for Opportunity for All

For many Coloradans, the deck feels stacked against them.  Whether they are suffering from predatory debt or a dependence on opioids, people who have been taken advantage of by irresponsible businesses need our Attorney General to defend them.  I will be that Attorney General.  But I also intend to do more:  I will work to support economic opportunity for all Coloradans, starting by ensuring that all Coloradans have broadband Internet access and can participate in the 21st century economy and protecting network neutrality.

Protecting Our Land, Air and Water

For our next generation, protecting our land, air, and water is a moral imperative.  If we don’t make progress on building a clean energy economy, we won’t address the challenge of climate change.  Our current Attorney General has joined former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in undermining protections for our land, air, and water.  We deserve better from our Attorney General.

Join My Team

Like any good teacher, I truly want your questions.  Please send them to me at phil@philforcolorado.com, so I can answer them and we can work together for the future of our state.  And please send my posts and videos to others so they can learn about me and my campaign.  Similarly, when I post testimonials from former students about my commitment to supporting others, please share them so others can get to know what type of person I am and what type of Attorney General I will be.

For us to elect the Attorney General we deserve, we need to educate all Coloradans about what our Attorney General’s office does and why I’m the best person for the job.   Thanks so much for your help on my journey to serve our state and be “Coach Phil” for all Coloradans.


Colorado Flag

The New Separation of Powers

The dysfunction in today’s political system would be painful for our Founders.  Under our Constitution, Article I governs the legislative branch, which is charged with passing the laws and ensuring that the executive branch (set up under Article II) follows the rule of law and respects our Constitution.

Over the course of our nation’s history, our practice has largely followed the model our Founders had in mind.  In the 1990s, for example, Congressional leaders like Colorado’s David Skaggs stood up to a President of his own party to defend our Constitution and the rule of law.  Today, as President Trump undermines the Affordable Care Act and threatens to leave many Coloradans without health care insurance, it’s a different story.  As one commentator explained, as long as the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, President Trump does “not have the right to undermine it through the use of executive power.”  Unfortunately, Congress is unable or unwilling to do its job in today’s polarized and dysfunctional environment to ensure that the President follows the Constitution’s requirement that the laws be faithfully executed.  Thankfully, State Attorney Generals are stepping up to defend our Constitution and the rule of law.

I am running to be Colorado’s next Attorney General because our constitutional freedoms and our nation’s commitment to the rule of law requires active citizens and responsible leaders.  Our current Attorney General has remained on the sidelines or has cheered on repeated challenges to our Constitution and the rule of law.  Notably, while other State Attorneys General have stepped up to challenge the unconstitutional travel ban, the ending of the DACA program, and the undermining of the Affordable Care Act, Colorado’s State AG has refused to act.  In some of these cases, she has forced our Governor to hire private counsel to represent our State.  And instead of working collaboratively in Colorado to solve problems and address challenges, such as managing oil and gas development responsibly, she has played political games, like suing Boulder County when it was working on an ordinance on this issue.  We deserve better.

The Constitutional Plan and Today’s Reality          

Under our Constitution, the founders expected Congress to exercise oversight of the executive and to check executive branch overreach.  In Federalist 51, James Madison praised the Constitution for creating a system that gave to “those who administer each department, the constitutional means, and personal motives, to resist encroachments of the others.”  As one commenter explained, “a system of checks and balance between the legislative and executive branches would use each branch’s 'ambition' to check the ambition of the other.”  Or, as Madison famously put it, “ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”

The Madisonian innovation of separation of powers has served our nation very well.  At important times during our nation’s history—the Vietnam War and Watergate, for example—Congress has stepped up to oversee illegal actions by the executive branch.  Today, however, the level of polarization and party discipline in Congress (and fear of primaries) has led to an environment where Presidential action remains unchecked.  In the absence of Congress doing its oversight job and functioning properly, the executive branch has a greater ability to exercise its discretion on how to implement and, in President Trump's case, whether to implement the law.

Federalism and the New Separation of Powers

In today’s environment, where Congress is refusing or is unable to act to ensure that the President “faithfully executes” the laws, State Attorneys General are playing an increasingly important role.   In the mid-2000s, when the Bush Administration refused to recognize that greenhouse gases were threatening our environment, a number of State Attorneys General stepped forward to challenge the Administration’s failure to follow the Clean Air Act.  In the landmark Massachusetts v. EPA decision, the Supreme Court recognized the role of State AGs in overseeing executive branch inaction and called on the EPA to begin regulating greenhouse gases.  Based on this precedent, State AGs now regularly oversee and take action to enforce the executive branch’s obligation to faithfully execute the laws.

I am running to be our next Attorney General here in Colorado because our freedoms and Colorado way of life depend on a willingness to stand up to the federal government.  As David Skaggs explained in endorsing my candidacy, the threats we face from the federal government, including expanded use of civil forfeiture without following due process, must be addressed by our State Attorney General.  With Congress unable to work effectively and to oversee the executive branch, our state governments play an increasingly significant role and our State Attorneys General are a principal line of defense.

In Colorado, we pride ourselves on collaborative and innovative problem solving.  On a range of issues where our federal government’s dysfunction is undermining progress, such as providing affordable and quality health care, addressing the opioid epidemic, protecting our land, air, and water and fighting climate change, and treating immigrants fairly, our state government is a model for the nation.  Unfortunately, our Attorney General here in Colorado is not working with our state leaders on these issues and is not standing up to the failings of Washington.  In 2018, we can address this by electing a new State Attorney General who stands up for us and works with leaders in our State to make progress in important areas.  Please join my campaign to help me do just that.


Phil Weiser at Pride Fest

It's already been 150 days!

Our campaign just passed another huge milestone — 150 days since Phil announced his candidacy! It may be corny, but we're keeping track of some fun stats like how many Iced Teas Phil drinks (478) or number of suitcases lost...and eventually found (1). Here are some of our stats (in graphic and text form):

  • 1,900+ unique donors
  • Wrote 22 blog posts
  • Made 1,643 phone calls
  • Hosted 127 events
  • Drank 478 iced teas
  • Baked 216 rugelachs
  • Coach 10 of Aviva's debate classes

The days on this campaign are flying by. We have lots to do to win this race and a limited time to get our message out. We appreciate your continued support.


Bernie-Buescher

Guest Commentary: Bernie Buescher - Why Phil Weiser Is the Best AG Candidate for All of Colorado

In 2018, Colorado will have the opportunity to elect a new Attorney General. We deserve an innovative, energetic leader who can make the office work for all Coloradans. As someone who has worked with Phil Weiser and seen what he can do, I know that he is the right choice for our next Attorney General.

I first met Phil in 2011 when he returned to Colorado after working for President Obama as the Senior Advisor on Technology and Innovation in the White House’s National Economic Council. After his tour of duty in Washington (he also served as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice), he returned to Colorado to serve as the Dean of the University of Colorado Law School. For Phil, this marked his second return to Colorado after working in Washington. His first such return came in 1999 after serving as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Ruth Bader Ginsburg and working as the counsel to the head of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.

Phil’s leadership as the Dean of the CU Law School got my attention. During his time as Dean, he put the interests of the students above all else, working to lower average indebtedness (it fell $16,000 for students who started after Phil became Dean), increase employment opportunities for our graduates (CU was ranked in the top twenty in this category), promote diversity and inclusiveness (Phil was honored for this work by the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association), and raise the profile of the law school (its ranking rose over 10 places during his Deanship). In doing all of this, Phil was an entrepreneurial leader, engaging the community, bringing national leaders (including Justice Ginsburg) to CU Law, and defying national trends (the applications rate at CU Law rose 10% during a time when they fell 40% nationwide).

Phil’s passion for all of Colorado really impressed me. At CU Law, he encouraged law students to work outside the Denver-Boulder area, providing scholarships to any students who did so. He also created an endowed program (a $7 million endowment) for loan repayment assistance, providing support to pay off student debts for those students who took jobs in under-served areas of Colorado or who went into public services positions. Moreover, he worked with the Colorado District Attorneys Council to enact legislation that created a rural DA fellowship program where recent law school grads went to work in rural DA offices, aiding law enforcement in those areas and providing valuable opportunities to recent law grads. As part of the Silicon Flatirons Center, which he founded, he spearheaded the Startup Colorado initiative, which supports emerging startup communities around our state. Finally, as Dean, Phil traveled all around the state to meet and support alumni.

What makes Phil really exceptional is that he is one of those leaders who takes an entrepreneurial and can-do attitude to problem solving.  All too often, government functions on auto-pilot, continuing to do what it has always done.  Under Phil’s leadership, the Attorney General’s office will be an engine for progress, with an innovative and creative problem-solving mindset that will improve our state and the lives of all Coloradans.  Whatever issue comes up—whether it’s health care, bringing broadband to all parts of our state, protecting our water rights, or reforming our criminal justice system—Phil will be a leader who brings people together, finds creative solutions, and gets things done.

In the White House for President Obama, Phil spearheaded a significant broadband initiative that resulted in bipartisan legislation.  Here in Colorado, he founded (and got me engaged with) the Governmental Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, which creates teams of people from the State of Colorado, the City of Denver, and law students to solve cutting edge challenges through entrepreneurial methods. For a great summary of that program, and Phil’s leadership, check out this article.

It’s tempting to grow cynical or feel deflated about the future of our politics and our government. Now, more than ever, we need leaders like Phil, who genuinely care about all Coloradans, bring an innovative spirit and mindset to government, and know how to get things done. That’s why I am supporting him to be our next Attorney General and I encourage you to join me in helping get him elected in 2018.

Bernie Buescher is a lawyer in private practice and the former Deputy Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Representative from Grand Junction, and an entrepreneur.


Montezuma County Democrats

Bringing Innovation to the Attorney General’s Office

I’m inspired by the opportunity to reinvent and revitalize the office of Attorney General in Colorado.  Under its current leadership, the office is often left on auto-pilot, with little direction, guidance, or energy from the top.  In my past leadership roles (in President Obama’s Administration, at the University of Colorado Law School, and in Colorado’s entrepreneurial community), I placed a premium on working collaboratively, and I always looked for new ways to do things better.  I plan to bring that spirit to the Colorado Attorney General’s office.

All too often, government (and the private sector) approaches an issue by asking, “How have we handled this before?”  But the premise of entrepreneurial leadership is openness to new experiments and to the evaluation of the experiments performed by others.  I want to bring this innovative mindset to the office of Attorney General. So I’ll start by addressing the question “What’s the best way we can approach this challenge?”

When I founded the Governmental Entrepreneurial Leadership Accelerator program, I tapped into Colorado’s spirit of entrepreneurial leadership to transform governmental approaches to problem solving.  Over the last two years, this program has worked with the State of Colorado and the City of Denver to identify challenging issues and to pioneer new solutions presented to State and City officials.  During that time, it has developed innovative solutions to addressing the opioid epidemic, transportation for homeless individuals, and getting broadband access to low-income school children.   In addition to developing innovative solutions, the teams of governmental professionals and students in this program receive valuable training and mentorship. This inspires them to innovate in their work and accelerates their professional development.  For a recent report on this program, see this article.

Entrepreneurial leadership is important because many challenges don’t have simple or straightforward solutions.  Take the issues around for-profit education, for example.  To be sure, we need our Attorney General to protect consumers by suing fraudulent providers of education who leave students saddled with debt, no marketable skills, and no job (like Trump University did).  But we also need legitimate for-profit skills-development programs that help students master the tools they need to succeed in today’s economy (like Galvanize here in Colorado does).  Our Attorney General can work with legitimate providers of skills education to develop a program where companies that follow best practices are recognized for doing so and all institutions are held accountable for the commitments they make to their students.

In our economy, certification and validation of the claims made by companies is one of the critical roles for our government.  In industries where consumers cannot trust what some companies promise, as is the case in for-profit education, the entire industry suffers.  For certification programs—like the LEED building standard or the Energy Star program—to work, they need a watchdog on the case to look out for consumers.  As our next Attorney General, I want to make sure such programs can develop and work effectively, making sure that consumers get what they pay for.  For a description of how such programs can work, see my thoughts on this topic.

We in Colorado have a great opportunity to draw on our pioneering and innovative spirit by electing leaders who are committed to an entrepreneurial approach to government.  My track record of such leadership, inside and outside of government, goes back two decades, through my work with leaders here in Colorado to start new programs and solve problems.  The Governmental Entrepreneurial Leadership Accelerator program is just one of many examples.  With your help, I can bring that spirit to our Attorney General’s office.


Four Generations

Our Nation of Immigrants

We often refer to our country as “a nation of immigrants.”  For me, this concept is personal—my mom came to the United States in 1951 as a refugee, after being born in a Nazi concentration camp at the end of World War II.  My grandparents and my mom came here because of America’s commitment to freedom and opportunity for all.  Unfortunately, President Trump’s approach to immigration—including his reported decision to terminate the DACA program—threatens the foundation of what makes our nation great.  To protect our immigrants and develop a sound immigration policy at this time in our history, we need engaged citizens and responsible leaders to step forward.  I’m running for Attorney General to be one of those leaders.

During Barack Obama’s Presidency, Congress failed to pass the sort of comprehensive and sensible immigration reform that our Senator Michael Bennet spearheaded and that our country desperately needed.  So President Obama used his executive authority—and discretion on how to enforce our laws—to make a promise to the children of undocumented immigrants: they could be productive members of our society and not have to live in the shadows.  These are kids who were brought here by their parents and who cannot recall living anywhere other than in the United States. This program, “Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals,” or DACA, enjoys wide support and makes powerful economic sense.  But a number of Republican State Attorneys General have challenged DACA.  Sadly, our current Attorney General here in Colorado has remained silent on this issue, rather than criticize the suit by other State AGs and call on the Trump Administration to maintain this program.

Trump announced that DACA will end in 6 months.  Such a decision threats the lives of hard-working individuals who have only known life here in the United States. It would force them back into the shadows.  It also hurts our nation by breaking a commitment to immigrants who trusted our government to keep its word, by creating a self-inflicted economic wound, and by causing fear and disruption for hundreds of thousands of young people in jobs, in the military, or in school.  We need our Attorney General to support DACA and to work with our institutions, including our colleges and schools, to ensure that DACA recipients are treated fairly—especially if Trump ends the program and leaves them in a precarious situation.

Currently, the Trump Administration is seeking to enlist states and cities in its effort to deport law-abiding members of our communities.  In a display of responsible leadership, Denver is refusing to cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in targeting undocumented individuals.   Mayor Michael Hancock has made it clear that Denver is safer because it protects our undocumented community members when they come to court to testify about crimes. On the other hand, President Trump’s policy is inhumane and threatens to make us less safe.

As our next Attorney General, I will defend our state, our cities, and our counties’ decisions to refuse to cooperate with DHS in deporting law-abiding members of our communities. I will also join other State Attorneys General to challenge the Trump Administration’s unconstitutional discrimination against Muslims seeking to immigrate to the United States.  So far, our federal courts have stopped the Trump travel ban from taking full effect.  Our Attorney General, unfortunately, has refused to join with other State Attorneys General to protect our nation’s tradition of welcoming immigrants regardless of their religion, race, or economic background.

Our nation’s greatness owes a lot to our welcoming attitude toward immigrants from around the world who come here to share their talent and hard work and to benefit from our freedoms and economic opportunity.  My family has lived this experience.  As Attorney General, I will fight for the humane and welcoming treatment of our immigrants, including DACA recipients and undocumented individuals living here productively.  And I will be one of the State Attorneys General standing up against religious discrimination of those seeking to immigrate here.


Justice White and Phil Weiser

What I Learned from Justice “Whizzer” White

Working at the Supreme Court was an incredible experience, allowing me to learn from two legends, Justices White and Ginsburg. In this article, I will share what I learned from working with Justice Byron White.

In the summer of 1994, I moved to Colorado after graduating law school to work for Judge David Ebel, who serves on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Just before I began my job as a law clerk to Judge Ebel, the Tenth Circuit moved into the Byron White Courthouse, where Justice Byron White kept his summer chambers. I met him shortly after I started working in the building that bears his name.

The following spring, Justice White hired me as his law clerk for the upcoming year’s term of the Supreme Court. At the time, Justice White was a retired Justice and joined a federal court of appeals for a single sitting—that is, hearing a week’s cases. As such, he only hired one clerk and lent that clerk out to an active judge. In my case, he agreed to share me with his successor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Justice Byron White was a true giant in the law and in politics—a Supreme Court Justice for over thirty years, Bobby Kennedy’s right-hand man (and Deputy Attorney General) at the Justice Department, and a leading figure in Colorado’s legal community. He graduated first in his class at Yale Law School while taking time out to play NFL football, where he led the league in rushing. Former Supreme Court Justice and Yale Law classmate Potter Stewart (famous for suggesting the “I know it when I see it” test for obscene materials) related that Justice White was both “Clark Kent and Superman.”

Justice White never forgot where he came from or let his success go to his head. Born in Wellington, Colorado, he grew up in a farming community where people were struggling. He said of his childhood, “The farmers weren’t making much money. There was very little money around Wellington, and I suppose you could say by the normal standards of today we were all quite poor, although we didn’t necessarily feel poor because everyone was more or less the same.” For Justice White, his humility came from his humble beginnings that he never forgot. And one important lesson that he demonstrated by example is that there is no excuse for arrogance, no matter how successful you are.

Justice White valued relationships, and he and his wife Marion welcomed his law clerks into their family. He was clear with me that when he hired law clerks, he was not solely focused on traditional academic credentials. He also cared about what kind of people his clerks were and how they related to others—what we might call “emotional intelligence,” or “EQ.” As such, he hired graduates from a range of law schools, enabling people like me to have an opportunity to work at the Supreme Court. Most Justices, by contrast, hired disproportionately (almost exclusively in some cases) from Harvard and Yale. The lesson in Justice White’s selection process is that pure IQ can be overrated, and EQ can be underrated.

Finally, I continue to carry with me Justice White’s professionalism and attention to detail. Judge David Ebel, who hired me to work with him on the Tenth Circuit and had clerked for Justice White years before, put this lesson succinctly, “I am not afraid of what I don’t know; I am afraid of what I think I know.” At an oral argument in one of the cases Justice White heard during my clerkship, the lawyer arguing the case (who clearly knew the issues very well) said to Justice White, “Excuse me, Justice, but this is my first case and I am nervous.” Justice White replied, “Stay nervous, counsel.” And I have carried that wise advice—and Justice White’s counsel to remain careful and be professional in whatever you do—with me throughout my career.

As I campaign across our great state to be Colorado’s next Attorney General, I know that Justice White would be proud of this career move. Justice White appreciated those willing to step into the arena and to serve the public, particularly by running for office. As I take on this new challenge, the lessons I learned from Justice White—about humility, about relationships, and about professionalism—guide me on this journey. They will also inspire me to be the best Attorney General I can be if elected to the position.

--Originally published in North Forty News.


Phil Weiser

The First 100 Days

Last Friday marked the 100th day of this campaign. While we have a long road ahead of us, I wanted to share some stats with you from these first 100 days (the graphic, and below, the stats are typed out).

100 Day Graphic
100 Day Graphic
  • Drove 5,748 miles
  • Held events in 31 counties
  • Drank 263 iced teas
  • Met with 2,245 Coloradans
  • Recruited 300+ volunteers
  • Won 1 bake-off with Bubby's rugelach recipe
  • Lost 1 suitcase

This adventure has broadened my perspective on our great state and the issues we are facing in the years ahead — and is a lot of fun. During the last 100 days, I have met so many great Coloradans as I have traveled all over our great state. And I’ve only lost 1 suitcase along the way (in Craig, Colorado and I have since retrieved it)!

Here’s to many more days of campaigning around our beautiful state and getting to know many truly special fellow Coloradans.


Democracy

Lessons from Charlottesville

In the wake of an act of terrorism and hate in Charleston, South Carolina several years ago, President Obama exemplified our nation’s moral compass, condemning the white supremacist who perpetrated the act, calling on all Americans to rise above our past, and famously singing “Amazing Grace” at the memorial service. This weekend, President Trump could not find the words to condemn an act of hate and terror by a white supremacist that injured dozens of people who were calling for tolerance and taking a stand against white supremacy. The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi publication, celebrated President Trump’s response to the tragedy, applauding that when he was asked to condemn the neo-Nazi marchers, President Trump walked out of the room.

President Trump’s instinct to blame “many sides” gave comfort to white supremacists who he had refused to call out for their un-American and hateful conduct and viewpoints. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, by contrast, emphasized that the “violence, chaos, and apparent loss of life in Charlottesville is not the fault of ‘many sides.’ It is [the fault of] racists and white supremacists.” Senator Orrin Hatch took a similar tone, stating that “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”

For me, like Senator Hatch, the battle against Nazi ideology is personal. My mother was born in a concentration camp, bringing light out of darkness. She was named, by my grandmother, “Estare,” meaning “star” of liberation. My grandparents, after surviving the Holocaust, came to our country because of its commitment to freedom and opportunity. They appreciated our country’s tradition of supporting immigrants and giving them a fair shot.

We in Colorado value the ethos of our nation’s motto:  E Pluribus Unum, out of many, one. In Colorado, we pull for one another to thrive and believe we all deserve a fair chance to succeed in life, regardless of our religion, race, or ethnicity. In one of our proudest moments, Governor Ralph Carr opposed Japanese internment camps during World War II. Today, we must all call out evil when it emerges, condemning white supremacy and hate before they have a chance to take root.  As our next Attorney General, I will do just that and continue our nation’s fight for equality, freedom, and opportunity for all.  


David Skaggs

Guest Commentary: David Skaggs - Phil Weiser Will Protect the Rights of Coloradans as Our Attorney General

In 1999, after I stepped down from Congress, I took my experience to the classroom. That fall, I taught a seminar on separation of powers at the University of Colorado Law School with a (then) young law professor, Phil Weiser. The course offered me a chance to get to know Phil and to reflect on the importance of separation of powers and checks and balances.

That topic is more important today than ever because Congress is not exerting its “check” and holding the executive branch accountable. State Attorneys General—and not Congress—are now acting as a crucial—and often the only—check against unlawful or unconstitutional action by the executive branch. That’s one reason I am so happy Phil Weiser is now running to be Colorado’s next Attorney General.

State AGs and the Separation of Powers

Colorado’s Attorney General represents all Coloradans: defending our civil rights, protecting our land, air, and water, and fighting for consumers, workers, and citizens to be treated fairly. A central role that should be played by the AG’s office is to protect Coloradans’ rights from infringement by the federal government. So if the federal government does something unconstitutional or illegal, our AG needs to be there to protect us. The ongoing litigation over the unconstitutional travel ban—brought by a number of brave AGs (not including Colorado’s)—is a case in point.

At this challenging time, the system of checks and balances that the Constitution’s Framers envisioned has special importance and relevance. But a key element of that system is being neglected: Congress is not providing the rigorous oversight of the executive branch; Congress is not doing its job.

Of course, separation of powers, and its corollary of checks and balances, pertains not just to the relationship between the three branches of the federal government, but also to the relationship between the federal government and the states.  This federal system affords another independent check on executive authority. When the executive branch does not follow the laws faithfully and Congress does nothing, the State AGs can act as the main check on this conduct.

A Case in Point

The case of civil forfeiture (taking private property even if only tangentially involved in criminal activity and without due process) demonstrates the importance of electing State AGs who can stand up to Washington and defend our rights. Under President Obama, the Justice Department cut back on this practice, concluding that it was wrong to seize property without any accompanying criminal investigation or warrant in place.

Just recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reinstituted the practice and rejected the concerns that it violates the “due process” rights of affected persons. As one conservative commentator put the issue, “By expanding government power to take property without appropriate due process, even when state laws don’t allow it, Sessions is signaling he answers to no one.” Here in Colorado, the legislature just passed protections on the use of this power, and we don’t want the federal government to override that policy. To protect Colorado’s sovereign authority, we need a State AG who will to stand up to Washington to protect our rights.

A Government of Laws, Not People

Our government is a government of laws, not of people who can simply do what they want. Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates has flagged the threat to our democracy and has explained that the fundamental independence of the Justice Department is now at issue. Similarly, the Washington Post has emphasized that “The United States has been a role model for the world, and a source of pride for Americans, because it has strived to implement the law fairly.” State AGs uphold that foundational principle of our constitutional system as well when they challenge illegal executive behavior.

We must work hard to continue this tradition. I know that Phil Weiser, as Colorado’s next Attorney General, will ensure that Colorado enforces the laws fairly and with equal justice for all.

In 1974, our nation faced a basic challenge to the rule of law: would the other branches of government stand up to an executive branch engaged in lawless conduct? After he was fired as special prosecutor, Archibald Cox stated that “Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people” to decide.

In 1974, Congress, and then the American people, spoke loudly and clearly on the need to embrace our constitutional traditions and support the “rule of law.” The result, as my predecessor in Congress Tim Wirth noted in endorsing Phil Weiser to be our next AG, was a period of political reform and renewal.

In 2018, we will face a similar test and opportunity. By electing leaders like Phil Weiser, Colorado and the nation can continue to fulfill our constitutional traditions and ideals. I encourage you to join me in supporting him.