Hartmann: Will Missouri Taxpayers Ever Tire of Losing Other People's Lawsuits?

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt keeps dragging Missouri into losing causes. - DOYLE MURPHY
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt keeps dragging Missouri into losing causes.

Eric Schmitt did what Eric Schmitt does last week.

He lost a big lawsuit outside of Missouri. Badly. And then tried to pretend like nothing happened. That’s how the man rolls.

Schmitt, working his side hustle as Missouri attorney general, got crushed last week before the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices ruled 7-2 that the states represented by Schmitt and his friend group of GOP-vote-starved attorneys lacked standing to bring forward the umpteenth Republican effort — and third at SCOTUS — to kill the Affordable Care Act.

Sound familiar?

In December, Schmitt wasted Missouri taxpayer resources to join the infamous Texas case challenging the election of President Joe Biden on behalf of loser Donald Trump’s Big Lie. At the time, Schmitt loudly proclaimed, “We’re in the fight!” The fight ended in an early first-round knockout, with the case rejected out of hand by a Supreme Court packed with a 6-3 conservative Republican majority.

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In November, Schmitt had joined the original Big Lie case challenging Pennsylvania’s mail-in voting. Same pigheaded thinking. Same taxpayer waste. Same result: SCOTUS tossed the case unceremoniously.

In August 2019, Schmitt joined a Kentucky case to argue that LGBTQ Americans must not be protected under Title IV of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Same pigheaded thinking. Same taxpayer waste. Same result. SCOTUS rejected employment discrimination by a 6-3 vote.

The pattern is rather clear. Schmitt has repeatedly — and shamefully — misused his state office to score cheap political points with Trump and the Republican base. Not one of these cases related to the business of the state of Missouri. In not one was the legal defeat a close call. In not one did Schmitt show an ounce of contrition.

Obviously, the big national story last week was that Obamacare had survived again, leaving the country facing the harsh reality that tens of millions of its citizens will keep their affordable health coverage. But in Missouri — where people can at least still take comfort that the state government is fighting (and willing to forgo billions) to keep 250,000 needy citizens uninsured by Medicaid — the focus really should have been on Schmitt.

The unbowed loser.

Here’s how Schmitt reacted to his latest defeat, as reported by the Kansas City Star: “We’re certainly disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision today, and that the case wasn’t decided on its merits but rather procedural grounds,” Schmitt said. “As Missouri’s Attorney General, I have a solemn obligation to defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Missouri — that’s exactly what I did in this case and what I will continue to do.”

Certainly disappointed, eh? I don’t know much as a layperson, but wouldn’t you check off the “standing” box before investing the time and energy — of taxpayer-funded lawyers — to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court?

Schmitt graduated with distinction from the Saint Louis University School of Law — a highly respected institution — but did he just miss the classes about parties needing to have standing to bring a lawsuit? Maybe he forgot what they taught in Procedural Grounds 101 or whatever it’s called.

It’s a lame excuse for lawyers to whine that they didn’t lose “on the merits” when their case was too weak to get past the clerks. The justices turned them away like telemarketers. Had they not, it’s a good bet that the Amicus Brief Gang would have lost on the merits, too.

Read the scoreboard, Sparky: You didn’t just lose by a 7-2 SCOTUS vote. You were denied entrance by a 4-2 vote of Republican justices and a 2-1 vote of Trump-appointed justices. And if you can’t win over Justice Clarence Thomas on an Obamacare case, you got no game. Still, we’ve got to endure this man who has little to no major trial experience aside a stunt cameo in a St. Louis murder case — certainly not one before the U.S. Supreme Court — telling us about his “disappointment” with the justices. Right. I’m “disappointed” there will be no Pulitzer Prize for this column.

Now, about those “solemn obligations.” Turns out, other people have them, too. One is to remind Schmitt that he wasn’t appointed a judge, nor chosen Republican Party chairman. He was elected to serve as Missouri’s top lawyer, representing and protecting all its citizens in matters pertaining to the law.

The term “all” in this context means everyone. As opposed, say, to just the Republicans in Missouri. Or just the people who voted for Schmitt. And nowhere in Schmitt’s solemn oath was there any reference to an obligation to jump on every politically enticing legal bandwagon in every other red state.

Just as Schmitt was brushing off his Obamacare whupping, it was announced Missouri would join “in support of a recent decision striking down California’s assault weapons ban,” the Missouri Times reported. And that’s on the heels of joining an anti-abortion GOP legal effort last month in Arkansas. And a March case — also hopeless — to thwart Biden’s efforts to cancel permits for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Sometimes, Schmitt doesn’t bother with a lawsuit. In the past month, he has used his position to challenge the Biden administration’s environmental policies and to take on critical race theory. In some cases, Schmitt can find some legal basis — direct or contorted — as a rationalization for embarking on these political missions. Sometimes not. But the bottom line is that it doesn’t matter to him. One need go back deep into the twentieth century — when Democrats enjoyed unchallenged one-party rule in the state — to find as politicized an attorney general’s office as the one Schmitt operates. (Not counting Josh Hawley, who wasn’t there long enough to find his office without a map.) Schmitt simply doesn’t waste time with boundaries.

St. Louis attorneys Elad Gross and Mark Pedroli are waging an ongoing legal effort to expose the degree to which Schmitt has blurred or ignored long-established lines to separate governmental and political activities. A particularly intriguing item regards communications related to what would become the January 6 Capitol insurrection.

Schmitt’s office has consistently maintained the preposterous position that there’s no cost to Missouri taxpayers for all these out-of-state legal efforts if they can be handled with existing staff. That, of course, presumes the staff wouldn’t be devoting that time to Missouri business if not for the politicized, national stuff.

Sadly, that might be true. Schmitt acts as a politician first, an attorney general second. A distant second.

That’s what Eric Schmitt does. Maybe it’s a blessing that he’s a loser.

Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).

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