South Dakota’s Noem Launches Legal Strategy to Tackle Biden
SIOUX FALLS, SD –South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has been catapulted onto the list of conservative politicians favored by former President Donald Trump with his libertarian approach to the pandemic. With the virus gone, she may be looking to stay there by choosing legal fights that will appeal to the right.
In recent weeks, Noem has went to court to challenge President Joe Biden’s administration for blocking an Independence Day celebration with fireworks at Mount Rushmore. She has also joined a multi-state lawsuit against the administration over climate change regulations – one of the only plaintiffs who is not from a state heavily dependent on fossil fuels.
Noem says she is simply acting in the best interests of the state, but the tactics have given her a chance to present herself as one of Biden’s most important enemies. She took to Fox News to announce the trial over the Mount Rushmore fireworks, and then joined star host Sean Hannity for a podcast titled “Noem vs. Biden.”
Noem told Hannity that the only way “to get fairness on this issue” was to sue the Biden administration and present it as a fight not only for South Dakota, but also for “our nation and the nation. ability to celebrate our independence as our founders encouraged us to do.
Instead of handing over the lawsuits to her attorney general, Noem filed them herself by tapping into a state legal fund that has historically been used to defend against lawsuits, not to initiate them. Noem plays a role usually played by the attorney general – she is the only governor listed alongside attorneys general of nine other states in the climate regulation lawsuit. In the Mount Rushmore trial, Noem has the support of Republican attorneys general from 16 other states.
Taking the lead on state legal matters, Noem has entered a dazzling legal battle that has unfolded in recent years between the ruling president and states controlled by the opposing party. Members of both parties, from California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom to Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have used a legal strategy to grasp current national issues.
But launching lawsuits from the governor’s office is a new strategy for Noem – and one that has drawn criticism from some other Republicans in South Dakota.
State Representative Steve Haugaard, a former Speaker of the House who quarreled with the governor, has given Mount Rushmore’s trial little chance of winning in court. The National Park Service, which controls the monument, cited the possible fire hazard and objections from local Native American tribes for refusing the state’s request to host fireworks this year.
âWhen the result is foregone, there is a better use of these funds,â he said, adding that âstate resources should not be used for personal attentionâ.
Noem hired a Washington-area law firm, Consovoy McCarthy, best known for representing Trump in the fight against investigative efforts into his financial records. Noem spokesman Ian Fury said the company was chosen for its âexpertiseâ. His contract is capped at $ 150,000, with the state paying $ 600 an hour for partners and $ 450 an hour for associates, according to Fury. The multi-state lawsuit against Biden’s order on climate change is expected to be “minimal.”
Fury explained that Noem filed the lawsuit against Rushmore herself because she was the one who pushed to postpone the fireworks celebration at Mount Rushmore. The administration noted that the monument is a huge draw for the state’s tourism industry, which is South Dakota’s second-largest provider of jobs.
Noem found an ally last year in then-President Trump, who paved the way for fireworks in Rushmore despite long-standing concerns about the fire danger. Trump joined Noem for a July 3 event that brought back photos of Noem alongside the president, as well as a seat with him on Air Force One after the event.
Troy Jones, a Sioux Falls business consultant and Republican, said he had no problem with Noem’s trial, citing the significance of the monument.
“A decision has been made which is objectively bad for my condition,” Jones said of the government blocking the fireworks.
Paul Nolette, a political science professor at Marquette University who studies attorneys general, said it was unusual for a governor to represent a state in lawsuits against the federal government. He attributed the move to Noem’s national ambitions – but also to a rift with state GOP attorney general Jason Ravnsborg, who was charged in a crash that killed a pedestrian last year.
Noem called on Ravnsborg to resign. He refused, saying he could still perform the duties of his post. But he kept a low profile.
Noem made it clear that she would not be embarrassed by the attorney general’s reluctance. Courting a national profile is a priority for Noem, who has become a frequent guest on Fox News over the past year, in part due to a hands-on approach to managing the coronavirus pandemic without requiring masks or enforcing important restrictions. Noem has also traveled the country participating in political fundraisers and conservative events such as CPAC, and also campaigned as a substitute for Trump and the GOP Senate candidates who ultimately lost critical elections in the Second tour to Georgia earlier this year.
Even some South Dakotans who enjoyed the Mount Rushmore fireworks have said they will be watching to see if Noem’s lawsuit stands up to judicial scrutiny.
Linda Johnson, an independent Sioux Falls voter who considers herself “fiscally conservative,” did not dispute that Noem is fighting for the fireworks, but she also warned the governor.
âShe has to face the consequences of every battle she leads taxpayers in,â she said.
This article corrected the misspelling of the name of a Sioux Falls business consultant. It’s Troy Jones, not Trey Jones.
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