Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has not been content during his brief tenure in office simply to enforce state law. He has devoted part of his energies to amplifying Alabama’s voice on a variety of constitutional issues.
This week’s lawsuit challenging the way the United States divvies up seats in the House of Representatives is only the latest example.
The state, along with U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), filed the suit in Birmingham’s federal court against the U.S. Commerce Department and the Census Bureau. Currently, the 435 House seats are distributed based on total population. That means that Alabama likely will lose a seat and one of its Electoral College votes after the 2020 census.
But Marshall argues that using total population unfairly awards extra congressional districts to states with large numbers of illegal immigrants.
“We don’t believe that the law requires that,” he said Tuesday during an appearance on FM 106.5 in Mobile.
Marshall stopped by during a campaign swing through Mobile that will include an appearance at the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce’s Pork & Politics in the Park event at U.S.S. Alabama Battleship Memorial Park from 6 p.m to 8 p.m.
Marshall said excluding illegal immigrants from apportionment would prevent Alabama — which has a small share of noncitizens — from losing a seat.
“We believe it’s an important fight for us,” he said.
Brooks took the floor of the House to announce the lawsuit.
“As of today, Alabama likely loses a congressional seat after the 2020 census if apportionment includes illegal alien counts,” he said. “The loss of an Alabama congressional seat will be a huge loss in Alabama’s political influence and will diminish Alabama’s influence in Congress and its importance in presidential elections.”
Marshall told host Sean Sullivan that the current system makes it lucrative for states like California to flout immigration law by crating “sanctuary” policies that limit cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
“Just open the doors, and say, ‘Safe haven here,’ and can greatly expand the census count for particular areas and particular states,” he said. “And so, that’s why we don’t want to create an [incentive], if you will, for people to be able to violate the law.”
Marshall has used the Attorney General’s office to weight in on issues like gun control and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a quasi-amnesty initiative for illegal immigrants that he argues Barack Obama’s administration created without legal authority.
Weighing in on issues like that generates headlines and attention, which can be politically beneficial to an incumbent with no experience in statewide office facing a tough primary election next month.
But Marshall, whom former Gov. Robert Bentley appointed in February of last year said there are policy considerations.
“We have the opportunity to be able to speak on behalf of Alabama, to stand for the Constitution around the state,” he said.
The job, Marshall said, requires a willingness to call balls and strikes without regard to politics. He said that is why he decided to go after gambling operations.
“That wasn’t a smart political move for me to be able to take on 10 different facilities in the state,” he said. “You see lots of money going to [former attorney general and current candidate] Troy King because of his stance on gambling. But yet, if I’m not willing to follow the law, if I’m not willing to enforce the law — regardless of the political consequences — I don’t need this job.”
Asked if video gaming was legal, Marshall gave a succinct answer — “no.”
Marshall said Alabamians can change that if they want — by amending the state constitution.
“Again, my job is not to make that political call. My job is to be able to enforce the law,” he said. “And to the extent that that is illegal — and it is, and I think that it’s clear that it is — and if locals [don’t] want to enforce the law, it’s my obligation to do it.”
In addition to King, Marshall faces former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and Chess Bedsole — who serves as Prsident Donald Trump’s Alabama campaign chairman in 2016 — in the June 5 primary.
@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”