Wedge-issue lawsuits drive state costs up

Published 1:11 am Saturday, September 17, 2016


Our state government has money problems.

It’s the reason we keep calling the Legislature back into special legislative sessions year after year to fix problems that should have been fixed during the regular legislative sessions.

It’s the reason we keep hearing about tax increases, the lottery and calls to close state parks and drivers license offices.

Every time the governor has to call legislators back to Montgomery to finish the job they didn’t do during the regular legislative session, it costs the taxpayers another $400,000.

But that’s nothing compared to the amount of money legislators have cost the taxpayers by passing unconstitutional bills that get overturned after lengthy and expensive court battles.

When the state loses a lawsuit defending legislation in court, we have to pay the attorneys of the groups challenging the law. Millions of dollars are pending or have been paid out because of lawsuits the state has lost defending unconstitutional legislation.

According to the Attorney General’s office, there are currently more than $4 million in pending payouts that have to be made to opposing counsel for lawsuits we have lost defending unconstitutional legislation. Keep in mind that these are pending payouts, not payouts that have already been paid in the past.

If the state loses the challenge to the legislative redistricting maps (which is very possible, considering the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against the districts and sent them back to a lower court), then the state will owe another $3 million on top of the $4 million it owes to Planned Parenthood, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU, among others.

And that’s just the payouts to the other side when we lose; these numbers don’t include the money and time spent by our own attorneys defending these lawsuits. That’s millions of additional tax dollars going down the drain.

Even when we win, we lose. If the state wins a constitutional challenge (as it did with the Accountability Act), the state still has to spend millions of dollars and hundreds of hours defending legislation–time and money that would have been better spent enforcing the law instead of defending it in court.

For years, legislators have used wedge issues as a way to drive up their base’s turnout during elections. But now, legislators around the country have turned to using wedge issues as a way to change the subject or distract voters from their poor leadership and fiscal mismanagement. Is the economy turning bad? Can legislators not find a way to solve a budget crisis? Are students’ test scores among the lowest in the nation? Have any of your leaders been accused or convicted of corruption? In Alabama, and throughout the country, legislators are turning to a strategy of changing the subject by passing unconstitutional legislation they know won’t hold up in court but plays well with the voters back home.

This is what happens when legislators put their own political ambitions ahead of the needs of the people. If legislators truly want to save the taxpayers money, they should stop wasting taxpayer dollars on expensive, unwinnable lawsuits defending unconstitutional legislation.


Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.