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State attorneys general stand up to administration

With federal law-making marked by gridlock and dysfunction, state attorneys general have challenged a range of administration decisions on issues ranging from health and the environment to census questions.

That was the assessment of Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, a Democrat, who briefed a committee of the American Bar Association Section of Local and State Government Law on Jan. 25 at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Las Vegas. “It so happens that it is the Democratic side that has taken the lead with this administration,” acknowledged Rosenblum, who said her office has joined at least 17 of the 20-plus significant joint lawsuits attorneys general have brought against the Trump administration in its first 24 months.

Speaking by phone, Rosenblum outlined the various cases that Democratic attorneys general have filed against the Trump administration, including the first travel ban case, which her office was instrumental in bringing. Even though the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately upheld the travel ban executive order, Rosenblum said the suits were effective in “watering down the initial ban that we felt was unconstitutional and mean spirited.”

The results of the 2018 midterm election flipped the political landscape for attorneys general, with 26 Democrats, 23 Republicans and one independent now holding office.

Rosenblum observed that historically attorneys general have been active in challenging federal administrations in court, particularly during the civil rights era. But the pace has stepped up in recent years, when Republican attorneys general began challenging numerous rules and policies of the Obama administration.

“Actually, suing the government is not so new,” she said of the attorneys general activism. “It goes from one side to another depending on who is in power.”

Some websites follow these actions. New York University Law School, for example, has an environmental webpage that lists 44 active lawsuits in the environmental arena since President Donald Trump took office. Adding agency filings to the mix, there are 154 different actions through Dec. 14, 2018. Oregon is participating in 76 of those.

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