by Ryan McKeen
For this post, I’m going to assume that the statute specifying the qualifications for Attorney General is constitutional. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. That question will have to be decided by the Connecticut Supreme Court.
Here’s the relevant text of the statute:
The Attorney General shall be an elector of this state and an attorney at law of at least ten years’ active practice at the bar of this state. Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 3-124
Much of the debate in recent months has focused on the words “active practice,” but that may miss the point or at least part of the point.
Perhaps the more critical words are “at the bar of this state.”
General principles of statutory interpretation require every word in a statute be given meaning where possible. “At the bar” could be referring to someone licensed to practice law or it could be referring to the physical bar in the courtroom.
The statute uses the phrase “attorney at law.” To be an attorney at law in Connecticut, one must be licensed to practice law.
Bysiewicz is making the argument that “active practice” simply means licensed to practice law.
If all the legislature wanted was for the Attorney General to maintain a law license for 10 years, there would have been no need for them to add the phrase “at the bar.” Those words mean the legislature wanted something more. The most logical reading is that the legislature wanted someone who appears in court — which makes sense. The Attorney General is a litigator. I’ve been in court and seen Attorney General Blumenthal argue a case.
It will be interesting to see the outcome of Bysiewicz v. DiNardo. Lots of things can happen, but it wouldn’t surprise this blogger if the outcome of the case hinges on the interpretation of the words “at the bar” and not the phrase “active practice.”
It is illogical to read three different clauses in the statute to all mean “licensed to practice”.
If the court reads the statute the same way that I do (which isn’t a given), then Ms. Bysiewicz’s fate hinges on whether or not the statute is unconstitutional.