Democratic attorneys general spent the past 16 months suing the current administration at a record pace, often thwarting President Donald Trump’s most ambitious policy maneuvers with lawsuits questioning their constitutionality.
While the most prominent of Trump’s critics, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, resigned a week ago after being accused of assaulting four women, there’s no shortage of attorneys general willing to fill any gap. Indeed, officials from California and New York insist nothing about their coordinated litigation strategy will change – a strategy they’re counting on to carry them through 32 crucial elections in November. And many say that with Barbara Underwood – a former U.S. solicitor general – filling in as acting New York attorney general, collaboration may even improve.
“States are protecting their people, values and economy, and that will continue as leaders throughout the country continue to emerge to resist and persist,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “New York has and will continue to be a leader in our fight for forward-leaning values, opportunity and the rule of law.”
Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh agreed.
“New York is not out of the game,” he said, adding “a lot” of his Democratic colleagues “are going to step up.”
As a divided Congress in Washington posed little opposition to the administration, Democratic attorneys general dubbed themselves “the last line of resistance” against the president. Beginning with a coordinated effort to halt the first of Trump’s trio of travel bans, those state AGs laid the groundwork for litigation that followed to block his anti-sanctuary city policy, plan to deport children of undocumented immigrants, environmental deregulation and edicts targeted at gay and transgender Americans, among others.
Democratic attorneys general from 23 states filed a combined 36 lawsuits against the Trump administration, and their record shows significantly more wins than losses. The greatest threat so far has been the Supreme Court, which appears poised to uphold Trump’s third, watered-down travel ban. Their own influence could be directly threatened if voters shrink the list of Democratic top cops in November.
“Our AGs have played the role of checks-and-balances against the Trump administration,” said Sean Rankin, executive director of the Democratic Attorneys General Association in Washington. “Democratic attorneys general have been extraordinarily successful in the courts, not only checking federal overreach but acting to ensure the Trump administration understands the rule of law.”
DAGA is hopeful they’ve bought credibility with voters through that record, setting sights on expanding the number of states with Democratic AGs across the country, including crucial races in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada, Colorado, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Florida.
Frosh has taken the lead on two cases: an emoluments lawsuit alleging Trump’s acceptance of payments from foreign and state governments at his Washington hotel violates the Constitution; and a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education for refusing to enforce the Gainful Employment Rule, which requires for-profit schools to disclose costs to students and helps determine whether programs lead to earnings to allow students to pay back their student loan debts.
If and when a lawsuit is filed challenging the administration’s proposal for more off-shore drilling, Maryland will be among the leaders, Frosh added.
Hector Balderas from New Mexico, Maura Healey of Massachusetts and Becerra are among the 14 Democrats fighting for their jobs against candidates backed by Trump’s fundraising machine. In November, the Republican Attorneys General Association hosted a fundraiser at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, contributing to the $21 million RAGA has raised for the 2018 elections.
For the 32 races in the first quarter of 2018, DAGA has raised about $2.7 billion compared to RAGA’s $5 billion. While Rankin says this doesn’t include funds raised by the candidates themselves, RAGA Chairwoman Leslie Rutledge sees a resource advantage for Republicans.
Rutledge, also Arkansas’ attorney general, is preparing to steal away seats in Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland to slash the number of states supporting the causes of New York and California, who’ve led litigation against Trump’s agenda. While Arkansas supported Texas’s litany of disputes against perceived overreach by the Obama administration, Rutledge reconciles that history and her present plans by arguing that Democrats are suing at a faster pace with an obstructionist agenda in mind.
“Our democratic colleagues have really politicized the office much more so than we ever even considered,” said Rutledge. “Welcome to the concept of states’ rights, Democrats. But this is isn’t about blatant disregard for the rule of law that we saw under President Obama. It’s an attempt to shape policy through courts that they weren’t able to when they had control.”
Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, who is running unopposed in next month’s Democratic primary, said he has begun to see some ads on Facebook from Craig Wolf, who is running unopposed for the Republican nomination.
While Frosh, a former state senator, said he takes any election challenge “seriously,” he said he would not stop pursuing cases against the Trump administration in the face of Republican criticism.
“They want to shut me up and it’s not going to happen,” he said.