Derek Schmidt reflects on his 12 years as Kansas attorney general in farewell letter

Schmidt said he was proud of “protecting modern federalism” and fighting COVID-19 vaccine mandates in end-of-year note

By: - January 5, 2023 10:10 am
Kansas Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt speaks at the Kansas Supreme Court redistricting hearing in May 2022. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)

Derek Schmidt said he was proud of blocking federal actions that he considered to be illegal during his 12-year AG career. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt lists suing the national government, fighting vaccine mandates and advocating against illegal immigration as notable accomplishments in the position he held for more than a decade.

In a farewell letter reflecting on his 12 years as the state’s top legal officer, Schmidt said he helped shape the role of the attorney general by protecting modern federalism and challenging illegal federal actions. The attorney general provides legal service to state agencies and boards over four-year terms.

Schmidt chose to run for governor instead of seeking another term. The Republican lost to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly in November.

In his letter, Schmidt said his list of accomplishments “includes successful challenges to parts of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), the Waters of the United States rule, various emissions regulations that would have increased energy costs for working families, ‘jab-or-job’ vaccine mandates that threatened the livelihood of thousands of Kansans.”

His administration also successfully argued eight cases before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Kansas, increased the office’s capacity to investigate and prosecute elder abuse and prosecuted more child sex abusers than any previous administration, according to the letter. Under his guidance, the office also created a youth-orientated suicide prevention app, and increased appellate capacity.

Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat, said he had mixed feelings about Schmidt’s legacy. Carmichael said Schmidt was competent in running the day-to-day administration of the office but had become more radicalized over the years.

“He did a workmanlike job as attorney general,” Carmichael said. “He served Kansas citizens well. However, he did become distracted by the political fray of the day. And that resulted in him, during the Trump administration in particular, moving farther and farther to the right.”

Carmichael said he didn’t support many of Schmidt’s actions in recent years, such as Schmidt’s support of a controversial lawsuit initiated by the Texas attorney general with the U.S. Supreme Court contesting administration of the 2020 presidential election

“The example that I was thinking of that probably most disturbs me during his term was him joining in lawsuits trying to affect the outcome of the presidential election two years ago in which Donald Trump was defeated,” Carmichael said. “And that is a step that he didn’t need, to challenge the electors or the counting of votes from states like Georgia. He did that gratuitously.”

During the pandemic, Schmidt was a vocal opponent of federal COVID-19 vaccination mandates, authoring legislation that allowed Kansas workers to opt out of vaccine requirements for philosophical or religious reasons.

During his 2022 gubernatorial campaign, he emphasized he wouldn’t require Kansas students to get the COVID-19 vaccine, though the authority to do so lies with the state health secretary, not the governor.

“As governor,” Schmidt said in August, “I pledge I will never again lock our children out of their schools, and I hope that Governor Kelly will take that same pledge. I think our families and our kids deserve to know they don’t need to worry about a repeat of this terrible error.” 

In March 2022, he gave a general opinion to the Kansas Legislature on ivermectin and  hydroxychloroquine, saying Kansas law didn’t prevent physicians or other prescribers from using these controversial drugs in COVID-19 treatment as long as a certain standard of care and conduct was met.

The FDA cautioned against using these drugs in COVID-19 treatment, and peer-reviewed clinical trials have shown the drugs provide no benefit in the prevention or treatment of COVID-19.

In his farewell letter, Schmidt also mentioned his efforts to limit illegal immigration, saying he took “numerous actions related to the federal government’s failure to secure our southern border.” He was part of a coalition of attorneys general who demanded Trump terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, established by Obama.

Schmidt has spoken in favor of tightening border control multiple times, including on the gubernatorial campaign trail, saying that illegal immigration was driving an increase in Kansas crime rates and drugs.

He was also known for filing several lawsuits against the Biden administration, including challenging the administration’s student loan cancellation program and guidance on transgender student sport policies.

Other topics mentioned in Schmidt’s farewell letter included the modernization of information technology, prosecution of child abusers, anti-human trafficking laws and handling of county criminal appeals. 

Carmichael said while he didn’t approve of many of Schmidt’s actions in recent years, he was more concerned over the future of the office, which Republican Kris Kobach will take over on Monday. He said Kobach, unlike his predecessors, is unqualified for the position.

“They were the types of leaders in that office that qualified lawyers would want to work for,” Carmichael said. “And that’s not the case with Kris Kobach. Kris Kobach is an embarrassment as a lawyer. He’s an embarrassment as a Kansan. He’s an embarrassment to his party.”

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.