Sparks Fly at Federalist Society Attorney General Debate

by | Feb 3, 2018

Five candidates showed up at the Federalist Society’s annual conference in Orlando on Saturday, but the event didn’t catch fire until the candidates were finally allowed to start asking questions of each other. Former circuit judge Ashley Moody bristled at a 2nd Amendment rights question asked of her by Rep. Frank White, which set her off on a series of offensive and defensive exchanges culminating in a testy one-on-one with Rep. Jay Fant. 

The event, held at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Convention Center, also featured Rep. Ross Spano and Democrat Ryan Torrens.

Torrens added a bit of levity in the early going when he was presented with a hypothetical scenario in which President Donald Trump called him to ask for his recommendation for a Supreme Court Justice. Torrens didn’t shy away from his liberal roots.

“You guys are gonna love my response,” he said. ” I would tell President Trump to nominate Barack Obama.”

The overwhelmingly conservative crowd roared with laughter. It was to be the last lighthearted moment of the event.

The forum delved into topics that legal intellectuals relish, including tort reform, federalism and states rights, and the duties of the attorney general to uphold the laws passed by the legislature, but few major policy differences emerged between the Republicans.

At one point, the candidates were asked if there was any situation in which they would not defend a Florida law.

Jay Fant, up first, simply answered, “No.”

White offered a more nuanced approach, suggesting he could envision a scenario where “we get so far outside of what the legislature intended with a law that as Attorney General you just…take your foot off the gas.”

Envisioning a hypothetical moral situation he didn’t agree with, Spano suggested he’d look for a way to uphold his duties, but said ultimately if he couldn’t do find a way to do it, he had a moral duty to resign from the job.

Later, when asked about his views on medical marijuana, Spano shared an emotional anecdote about his father, who spent the final three months of his life on morphine, unconscious. “I do believe in some sense of use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. That being said, this issue is a Pandora’s Box.”

Near the end of the forum, candidates were allowed to ask questions of each other, and that’s when the fireworks started going off.

White opened with a question directed at Moody, who he’s been relentlessly and openly attacking as a liberal judge.  “What are your views when it comes to 2nd Amendment rights on government property such as college campuses?”

Moody ducked the question, instead delivering what sounded like a prepared talking point. “I’m a strong believer in 2nd amendment rights. I’m the only judge who has had to apply the law as it is set forth,” she said, before diverging into a rambling recitation of actions she’s taken as a judge that impact self-defense rights. But she made no mention of campus carry or even government property specifically.

UPDATE: Moody’s campaign emailed to so say she supports campus carry legislation and may have said so in her answer during the event. (If so, I apparently missed it -BB).

Spano got into the act next by first expounding upon his litigation experience, and then asking Fant if he had any.

“I would remind you that it’s attorney general, not solicitor general. The job requires a policy background,” said Fant, who explained that the duties of the Attorney General include managing a large department within the executive branch of the state government, not primarily arguing cases before a court.

Moody was up a few questions later, and borrowed from Spano’s attack on Fant, seizing the chance to strike at White with a question about whether or not he’s ever served as lead counsel in court or trials.

White responded with an answer similar to Fant’s, pointing to other successful attorneys general, including Federalist Society guest speaker Scott Pruitt, who currently serves as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and is the former Attorney General of Oklahoma. Like Pruitt, White said, he serves as general counsel for a business operation and said they had similar backgrounds.

“I would be ready to serve as Attorney General. We need someone who is a proven and consistent conservative.”

“So the answer is no?” Moody asked.

“Correct,” White said, smiling.

A few questions later, Moody was at it again, but this time, taking on Fant, accusing him of running a negative campaign and going back on a promise from a prior campaign not to attack other conservative candidates. She alluded to campaign flyers that have been sent, and asked how Fant “reconciled” that with his old campaign promise.

Fant denied sending any mailers, but said, “What an interesting question. Just because an issue makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t mean you’re being attacked.”

“Misleading flyers are attacks,” Moody interrupted. “I would just ask that all campaigns, when disseminating information, make sure of the facts, because those are attacks. Unjustified, misinformed, and misleading.”

Fant again denied sending any flyers or mailers about her, but pushed to a more pointed question.

“Are you suggesting you did not support McBride over Bush?” he asked, a reference to her 2002 campaign donation to Democrat gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride, then running against the incumbent Republican Governor, Jeb Bush.

When Moody ducked that question, Fant fired again. “You have sued Donald Trump for fraud. This campaign won’t get any easier. It’s important to understand how candidates are different.”

Moody then attempted to close out the exchange by going back to the misleading flyer.

“Many things went out that said I was not supportive of our 2nd amendment rights. I’m the only one who’s given an order to defend someone’s 2nd amendment rights.”

But none of the candidates on stage knew what she was talking about with respect to the flyer. After the event, the White campaign acknowledged sending out mailers (below) about Moody’s liberal record, but said none of them mention Moody’s alleged shortcomings on 2nd Amendment issues.

Update: Moody’s campaign forwarded an email message sent by the Fant campaign on January 4th, 2018 that hints at a 2nd Amendment failure from Moody, but we still don’t know what it is. Here’s the language from the email:

Speaking of Stand Your Ground Laws… as a liberal judge, Ashley Moody betrayed second amendment conservatives (more revelations on that subject coming VERY SOON)

And here’s the White campaign mailers:


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