Did Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem Defend North Dakota’s Voter ID Laws Adequately?


FILE PHOTO: North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)

Recently a federal judge enjoined North Dakota’s voter ID law, meaning it cannot be enforced ahead of the general election later this year. It was the latest in a string of federal decisions against similar state laws across the country. But over at National Review Hans von Spakovsky – who counts in his resume stints at the Federal Elections Commission and the U.S. Justice Department – says Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem didn’t do a very good job defending our state’s law.

“[T]he state of North Dakota did not bother to put up an actual defense in this lawsuit,” he writes. “They didn’t hire any experts to review, evaluate or analyze the claims made by the challengers. Such inattention and inaction borders on malpractice.”

To support his argument, he points to the fact that Judge Daniel Hovland noted not once but twice in his order – in bolded font, no less – that the State of North Dakota did not dispute any of supporting arguments or evidence presented by the plaintiffs in the case.

You can read the full order below. This is from page 7:


Hovland reiterates the point on pages 8/9:


Based on this comments from Hovland, von Spakovsky says Stenehjem’s office didn’t do their duty to defend the state’s law, blaming this alleged lack of attentiveness on Stenehjem being pre-occupied with that very heated gubernatorial primary which he lost in June.

“Perhaps he was too busy running for higher office to do his job as attorney general and defend the state’s voter-ID law,” von Spakovsky writes. “The point, however, is that any reliance on the findings in this case are misplaced, given that the judge really did not have much choice in what he did — it is not his job to defend the state. That is the job of the attorney general, who was apparently AWOL in this case.”

I reached out to Stenehjem this morning for a resonse to von Spakovsky’s criticisms, and he said a rebuttal if forthcoming.

“We are, and have been vigorously defending this lawsuit,” he told me. “I’ll be writing letter in response to the NR article and will provide it to you when it’s done.”

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