Last week Tennessee Attorney General rounded up a bunch of his Republican colleagues to follow Kristi Noem and other conservative whiners in making political hay over the USDA’s application of Supreme Court guidance on discrimination to its nutrition programs. On Tuesday, June 14, AG Slatery sent a letter to the Biden Administration complaining that it can’t make preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity a condition of receiving federal SNAP and school lunch benefits. That letter included the signature of Jason R. Ravnsborg:
That’s funny: killer Jason R. Ravnsborg has been suspended from duty since his impeachment on April 12. Per Article 16 Section 5 of the South Dakota Constitution, Ravnsborg cannot exercise any duties of attorney general until and unless the Senate acquits him of both impeachment charges at the trial that starts this week on Tuesday, June 21. How does he get to sign a letter and lend the weigh of his name and office to any communication to the President or anyone else?
“The signature that appears on the official letter is the e-signature of Attorney General Ravnsborg. That signature acts as a seal for the Office of the Attorney General during his suspension because, as you are aware, he is still the AG,” [Ravnsborg’s chief of staff] Tim Bormann answered. “The decision to join the letter was made, on behalf of the Office, by Chief Deputy Charles McGuigan and Solicitor General Paul Swedlund” [Bob Mercer, “Despite Official Suspension, Ravnsborg’s Name on Letter,” KELO-TV, 2022.06.18].
But the press release from the South Dakota Attorney General’s office didn’t say, “That’s an electronic signature affixed by the Acting Attorney General.” The press release from the SDAG’s office says, “The letter was signed by Attorneys General from the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.” The plain reading here is that Ravnsborg signed this official letter.
The “seal” argument doesn’t hold water. A signature is a sign of official approval by the signer, the person. A signature says, “These are my words, not just those of my office, but of me as the officeholder, exercising the duties of my office.” Even if the official isn’t available to sign that document, affixing that official’s signature to that document makes the document his official act.
Senate President Pro-Tempore Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Lake Kampeska) seems to think that creating the impression that Ravnsborg is exercising an official duty while suspended just a week before his trial is neither smart nor legal:
“Jason has no ability to act as AG, virtually, electronically or otherwise, pursuant to our state Constitution, pending the outcome of the impeachment trial,” Senator Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, answered.
Schoenbeck, the Senate president pro tem, would preside over Ravnsborg’s two-day trial if Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden isn’t available. Rhoden is the Senate’s president [Mercer, 2022.06.18].
But hey, it’s just a signature, right? It’s not like Ravnsborg killed anybody.