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Utah lawmaker proposes restricting attorney general’s power to involve state in lawsuits

SALT LAKE CITY — On the heels of Republican Attorney General Sean Reyes joining a lawsuit contesting the 2020 presidential election results in other states, a Democratic lawmaker is proposing to amend the Utah Constitution to limit the attorney general’s power to involve the state in litigation.

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, introduced a resolution, HJR 14, Tuesday that would put the issue before voters in the 2022 general election. It would restrict the attorney general to lawsuits that support the state’s interests as reflected in law or administrative rule or policies adopted by the Legislature or governor.

“In representing the state in legal proceedings, the attorney general may act only as necessary to support or protect state interests as reflected in statute, duly adopted administrative rule, or other official policies adopted or enacted by the Legislature or governor,” the bill states.

As an independently elected official, the attorney general is not required to gain approval from lawmakers or the governor before taking legal action.

The resolution has not been assigned to a committee and isn’t likely to advance in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The proposal appears to be a response to lawsuits Reyes has joined on behalf of the state, including one challenging the presidential election results.

Reyes joined a Texas lawsuit seeking to invalidate Electoral College votes in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — all swing states that former President Donald Trump lost. The U.S. Supreme Court turned down the petition, saying Texas did not have legal standing to contest election procedures in other states.

Reyes said he joined the Texas case because there are questions about the election process and constitutional integrity that need to be answered nationally. He said the high court must decide whether state legislatures or the courts determine the time and place for voting.

Former Gov. Gary Herbert and then-Gov.-elect Spencer Cox, both Republicans, condemned Reyes’ action. Herbert said there was no reason to involve Utah in challenging the election results of other states. Cox, a lawyer who oversaw Utah elections as lieutenant governor, said he saw no evidence of widespread voter fraud across the country.

Shortly after being reelected in November, Reyes traveled to Las Vegas to help prepare and support lawsuits in several states dealing with what he called a “compromised” election process. After visiting Nevada, Reyes said he saw evidence of voting irregularities that may have resulted in improper votes being counted or proper votes being rejected.

Several groups, including the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah and the centrist United Utah Party, called for Reyes to resign.

Earlier in the legislative session, Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, opened a bill file to impeach Reyes for allegedly misusing the powers of his office. Stoddard said Reyes worked “shamelessly” to undermine the country’s election results.

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said he saw no evidence that Reyes’ actions met the threshold for lawmakers to pursue impeachment.

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