Has the Texas Attorney General’s Office Become a Tentacle of a Religious-Right Group?

It’s beginning to look like the Texas Attorney General’s Office is no longer working just for the people of Texas. Under Attorney General Ken Paxton, the office seems to be carrying water now for religious-right interest groups — especially the Plano-based litigation group First Liberty Institute, which rejects separation of church and state.

The El Paso Times reports that the AG’s office has filed a court brief supporting an El Paso pastor sued over his efforts to recall Mayor John Cook and two City Council members in 2011. The recall election effort came after the City Council passed (for a second time) an ordinance providing benefits to the domestic partners of city employees. Cook, who is no longer mayor, claims in his lawsuit that Bishop Tom Brown of Word of Life Church and others in a group called El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values violated the law in their campaign for the recall election. Brown is also the founder of Tom Brown Ministries, which has been designated as an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The El Paso Times has more details about the lawsuit’s allegations, but here’s the key thing: the AG’s office under Greg Abbott refused to intervene in the case in 2011. But now the office, under Ken Paxton, has filed a brief supporting Brown and his group. This comes just after Paxton hired as his first assistant attorney general Jeff Mateer — a lawyer from First Liberty Institute who had represented Brown before the Texas Supreme Court in an unsuccessful challenge to the lawsuit. Paxton has also hired another First Liberty attorney, Hiram Sasser, as his chief of staff.

A spokesperson for Paxton’s office claims that Mateer had nothing to do with the brief filed on behalf of his former client. But the timing of Mateer’s and Sasser’s hire in the AG’s office and the office’s filing of the brief make that claim hard to believe. The whole thing smells.

And that leads us to ask: Has the Texas Attorney General’s Office simply become a branch of First Liberty Institute and that religious-right group’s political agenda? What other First Liberty Institute cases will the AG’s Office now support?

Attorney General Paxton already faces plenty of legal and ethics troubles of his own. Perhaps investigators should look into whether or not he is corrupting the work of his office as well.