- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 21, 2018

With Democrats struggling to stop President Trump in Washington, a cadre of attorneys general have stepped up to claim leadership of the anti-Trump resistance, using the courts to try to derail the administration’s agenda.

Massachusetts, New York and California are leading the way, with Maryland, Washington and Hawaii also playing major roles in launching legal battles to stop executive actions on issues such as immigration, the environment and Obamacare.

Just last week, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman added two more challenges to the list, leading lawsuits against the Trump Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rollback and an Environmental Protection Agency decision on clean air rules.

“One thing that really stands out about 2017 is that the sheer quantity of lawsuits has really shot up dramatically even in comparison of the Obama years, which of course was an escalation of what had occurred in previous administrations,” said Paul Nolette, a Marquette University political science professor who tracks the lawsuits and has counted dozens filed in the past 12 months.

The successes have been mixed. Opponents have won some big battles in Democrat-dominated lower courts, though the U.S. Supreme Court has been less accommodating. In one major example, the justices allowed the president’s travel ban policy to remain in effect despite lower-court rulings.

But the desire to turn to the courts remains strong and has spawned a race among attorneys general for the most lawsuits.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office said she has led or joined 25 challenges so far.

“His administration has undermined many of our key economic sectors, like clean energy, health care, and tech, and attacked our basic values of equality and fairness,” Ms. Healey said in a statement to The Washington Times. “As attorney general, my job is to challenge his illegal and unconstitutional actions on behalf of our state and our residents, and I’ll continue to do my job.”

Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin, who filed the leading case against Mr. Trump’s travel ban, said he has a duty to rein in the White House’s legal excesses.

“We are proud to be the 50th state, but Hawaii is arguably the first in reflecting some of America’s greatest strengths — diversity, inclusiveness and being a melting pot,” Mr. Chin told The Times. “Those values have been under attack by the current administration. My office has fought to protect these important Hawaii values.”

Mr. Schneiderman’s office counts more than 100 actions to challenge the administration, including filing comments on rules, sending letters to Cabinet officials and, of course, going to court. His office said they considered 2017 a “year of legal resistance.”

Amy Spitalnick, Mr. Schneiderman’s press secretary, said most of their litigation is ongoing but they have scored quick early victories in forcing the Trump administration to reverse course on some environmental policies.

Legal scholars say state attorneys general have become more organized and have the capability to respond rapidly to policies and regulations.

Their eagerness to sue also sometimes means the same Trump policies face challenges in multiple courtrooms, giving them a number of chances to succeed.

Given district judges’ readiness to impose national rulings, all it takes is one court. On the travel ban case, courts in Massachusetts and Northern Virginia upheld the president’s policy, but courts in Maryland, Hawaii and Seattle ruled the other way, hamstringing the administration.

Meanwhile, challenges to Mr. Trump’s phaseout of the Obama-era deportation amnesty are pending in five judicial circuits — though not all of those were brought by attorneys general. Some were brought by activist groups.

“It increases the chances of getting a sympathetic judge and winning on the merits when you have lawsuits attacking the same policy active in different courts,” Mr. Nolette said.

Filing separate lawsuits also allows a state to give more details on specific harms facing its residents.

“For all the cooperation here, there is undoubtedly some clashing of egos,” Mr. Nolette said, adding that separate lawsuits increase media attention for an attorney general seeking the limelight.

Mr. Nolette has been tracking multistate litigation against administrations dating back to President Reagan. He said attorneys general filed more than three-dozen multistate lawsuits during the Trump administration’s first year.

President George W. Bush faced 16 multistate lawsuits from 2005 through 2007, and President Obama’s Justice Department handled 25 cases in 2015 and 2016.

According to his count, Massachusetts led all states with 28 multistate lawsuits against Mr. Trump as of early this month. New York was second with 26, and California was third with 24 multistate cases.

Jeffrey Lubbers, a law professor at American University, said it isn’t surprising that Democrats are challenging a Republican-led administration. Republican-led states did the same thing to Mr. Obama.

“If you also go back and see which AGs filed the most actions against the Obama administration, I’m pretty sure you will find Oklahoma … and Texas leading the pack,” Mr. Lubbers said.

Texas officials bragged about having the most anti-Obama lawsuits with more than 45 filed during his tenure. Texas was indeed frequently joined by its northern neighbor in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma’s attorney general during much of that time was Scott Pruitt — who now heads the EPA, fending off lawsuits from his former fellow attorneys general.

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