By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - A California Republican state lawmaker is challenging the legality of a move by Democrats in the legislature to hire former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to help in any legal battles with President-elect Donald Trump's administration.
Assembly member Kevin Kiley has requested a formal ruling from state lawyers on whether the decision by Democratic legislative leaders to hire Holder and his firm, Covington & Burling, for $25,000 a month violated a provision in the state's constitution that bans hiring outside counsel for work the state's own lawyers can do.
"People might have differing feelings about Eric Holder and about the incoming presidential administration, but all of us should be able to agree that as legislators we have a duty to abide by the law," Kiley, an attorney, said in a phone interview on Monday.
Kiley's request came on the eve of hearings in the Democratic-led legislature on the nomination of U.S. Representative Xavier Becerra as state attorney general, another move by Democrats to position California to defend its liberal policies against the Republican Trump. America's most populous state voted heavily for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Under the Trump administration, which takes office on Jan. 20, California is expected to take a role similar to that played by Texas, Kansas and other conservative states during Democratic
President Barack Obama's administration. Those states mounted legal challenges to Obama's executive orders and federal policies on such issues as healthcare, immigration and the environment.
California Republicans have been mostly quiet on Democratic Governor Jerry Brown's nomination of Becerra. But the hiring of Holder, who was Obama's attorney general from 2009 to 2015, prompted an outpouring of protest from Republican lawmakers.
"Democrats should focus on solving these real-world problems instead of wasting tax-payer money to score political points before the president-elect even takes office," Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes said in a statement.
Kevin Liao, a spokesman for Democratic state Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said on Monday his office had conferred with the state Legislative Counsel and other legal sources before hiring Holder's firm.
He disagreed the hiring was prohibited, saying the constitutional ban referred to hiring by the executive branch of government and not the legislature.
Liao added that legislature needed legal advice from attorneys experienced in dealing with federal agencies and federal law - cases in which the state attorney general's office does not specialize.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Peter Cooney)