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Blue State AGs fight for their jobs while fending off Trump

Kartikay Mehrotra, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

SAN FRANCISCO -- 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."

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 U.S. 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."

Schneiderman was quick to take the lead on a flurry of high-profile lawsuits against the Trump administration's policies, but his departure will highlight emerging leaders rather than leave an influence gap.

"There's no doubt that we'll see a new line of leaders take up the cause -- Maura Healey, Josh Shapiro, Xavier Becerra, Bob Ferguson, Hector Balderas are all stepping up," said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenbloom, co-chair of DAGA, referring to her peers from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, California, Washington and New Mexico, respectively. "We lost a colleague, but nothing changes. If anything, we're more committed to working together."

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.

Balderas from New Mexico, Healey of Massachusetts and California's 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.

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