Before Gov. Jim Justice put his signature on four bills last month, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey began preparing for lawsuits he expects will be filed against the state challenging the legislation.
The Attorney General’s Office released a request for proposals late last month seeking legal counsel as Morrisey “anticipates that in the coming months there will be additional legal work required to defend both client agencies and legislation,” the request said.
Such requests are common from the Attorney General’s Office, since the attorney general is West Virginia’s chief legal officer and is tasked with representing the legal interests of the state, which includes state agencies.
Morrisey’s April 27 request largely was boilerplate, setting deadlines and requirements for applications. Only the first sentence, referring to “defending client agencies and legislation,” offered any indication about the type of cases lawyers and offices who present bids might tackle.
As of April 30, the state had received no notice of intention to file a lawsuit over bills the Legislature passed during the regular legislative session ending April 10, said Curtis Johnson, press secretary for the attorney general.
On April 11, Morrisey wrote in a Facebook post that his office was getting ready for litigation in defense of new state laws, which included the Second Amendment Preservation Act (House Bill 2694), the Second Chances at Life Act (HB 2982), the ban on transgender females participating in public school-sanctioned sports (HB 3293) and the Hope Scholarship law (HB 2013).
Justice signed all those bills into law.
“We will review these bills/laws in order to prepare defenses for legal challenges against them,” Morrisey said in the Facebook post. “As this process unfolds, we will keep you updated about litigation which the state is involved in and how your voice can help us advance WV conservative values. We take seriously our obligation to defend the constitutionality of state laws.”
When asked to comment about the preparation for anticipated legal action, Morrisey said the legislature had a “very productive 60-day session.” West Virginians should “rest comfortably in knowing that our office takes seriously its role to defend the constitutionality of state laws,” he said.
“Our team will take appropriate action to review and defend these matters should opponents choose to challenge their legality,” Morrisey said. “We look forward to keeping the state updated should legal challenges ensue. However, right now it would be premature to discuss specifics as to the potential defense of any challenge brought forth.”
The laws Morrisey anticipated being challenged were hallmarks of the 2021 legislative agenda in West Virginia.
The Second Amendment Preservation Act bars local police from enforcing “red flag” laws — court orders temporarily removing firearms from people when relatives show they pose a threat to themselves or others, the Gazette-Mail reported last month.
Police unions throughout the state spoke out against the bill during the session.
The Second Chance at Life Act requires physicians prescribing medicine to induce an abortion to advise patients that “some say” such an abortion can be “counteracted” and they should contact their doctor if they “change their mind” after taking the first of two doses.
The Hope Scholarship program sets up a school vouchers program to provide families with money to pay for private school or to home-school their children at ages when they have access to free public schools, starting in kindergarten.
The program is expected to cost the state $103 million.
West Virginia’s transgender athlete ban prevents transgender athletes from participating in girls’ and women’s sports from kindergarten through college.
A federal lawsuit was filed over a similar law passed by Idaho lawmakers in 2020. The judge in that case issued an injunction to prevent the law from taking effect until its constitutionality is determined.
The American Civil Liberties Union sent a tweet April 28, the day Justice signed the bill here, saying “We will see West Virginia in court.”