Nancy Pelosi. Chuck Schumer. The Russia probe. The "deep state." Of all the obstacles that could potentially thwart the Trump agenda, add to that tempest the flood of lawsuits now being plotted by blue-state attorneys general who have made no secret of their disdain for the administration’s policies.
The Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA), a political fundraising group, touts the AGs as “the first line of defense” against Trump’s agenda.
“The Trump administration has trouble understanding the rule of law and that’s the reason Democratic attorneys general are filing lawsuits and winning them,” Sean Rankin, DAGA’s executive director, told Fox News.
To be sure, outspoken state prosecutors stalled many of the administration’s 2017 goals in court with a record number of lawsuits. And they’re doubling down in 2018.
In late January, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued the Trump administration over fracking rules. In early February, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced his intent to sue the Trump administration for reversing the Obama-era Waters of the United States regulation. Several East Coast states may soon band together to try to undermine the newly passed tax overhaul.
The lawsuits may only be energized by the election-year environment.
Attorney general races are playing out in 32 states in 2018, with 14 seats held by Democrats and 18 by Republicans. Rankin said DAGA is focused chiefly on winning races in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin.
'This is not about the rule of law or holding the line to stop the feds from preempting state laws, this is about power.'
“For the first time, I believe, general voters, as well as elected officials, understand this is an office of considerable importance and not just a down-ballot race,” Rankin said.
Amid the lawsuit flurry, the association reported it increased its 2017 fundraising haul by $2.4 million from the previous year -- growing its donor base from fewer than 500 in 2016 to more than 5,000 in 2017. Beyond raising money, DAGA facilitates weekly phone conferences with the nation’s 23 Democratic attorneys general to discuss lawsuits and strategies.
This is familiar territory. During the Obama administration, the GOP attorneys general routinely challenged policies on ObamaCare, immigration and the environment -- but filed far fewer lawsuits per year. The Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) also claimed a record setting year in 2017. The group said it raised $16 million, which is about $3.5 million more than was raised during the last “off-year” fundraising period – 2015.
‘Nullification by other means’
The past year has been a bonanza of anti-Trump lawsuits. DAGA highlighted numerous cases in a year-end report. And while Democrats scored victories at the district court level, they had mixed results on appeal.
- Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson first sued over Trump’s travel ban on people entering the United States from terrorism hot spots in the Middle East. Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin sued to block another version of the travel ban.
- After the Trump administration rolled back the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) -- which shielded from deportation about 800,000 illegal immigrants brought to the country as minors -- 16 Democratic attorneys general challenged the move.
- Becerra of California, Maura Healy of Massachusetts, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania and Ferguson of Washington challenged the Department of Health and Human Services' rollback of the ObamaCare contraception mandate.
- Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Healy and Schneiderman sued the Education Department over a student loan policy.
- Another 14 Democratic attorneys general sued the Environmental Protection Agency alleging it isn’t enforcing smog rules.
“We would expect Democrats in Congress and Democratic governors to be part of the resistance, but we should expect more from chief law enforcement officials in their states than to seek nullification by other means of federal law,” Curt Leavy, president of the Committee for Justice, a conservative legal group, told Fox News. “Parts of the judiciary itself and many AGs see themselves as part of the resistance.”
Throughout 2017, Democratic attorneys generals filed 35 multistate lawsuits against the Trump administration, according to tracking by Paul Nolette, a political science professor at Marquette University and author of “Federalism on Trial: State Attorneys General and National Policymaking in Contemporary America.”
By contrast, Republican attorneys general brought 46 multistate legal challenges during all of former President Barack Obama’s two terms.
The “sheer volume” of Democratic lawsuits is “staggering,” said Scott Will, executive director of the Republican Attorneys General Association.
“This is not about the rule of law or holding the line to stop the feds from preempting state laws; this is about power,” Will said in a statement. “Look, Republicans and Democrats had a history of banding together to prevent the federal government from preempting state laws, but those days are over and that is unfortunate.”