May 8, 2018 / 10:23 PM / 15 days ago

Democratic state AGs vow to continue Trump challenges

(Reuters) - As New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman was one of the most visible and reliable members of the coordinated resistance to President Donald Trump’s policies. Before Trump was even elected president, Schneiderman buzzed around him like an angry bee, accusing Trump of defrauding Trump University students and launching an investigation into his charitable foundation. Since Trump took office, Schneiderman has stung repeatedly, filing more than 100 lawsuits or administrative actions in response to Trump’s environmental, labor and civil rights rollbacks.

In just the last month, the New York AG’s office brought challenges to new fuel economy standards, the prospective addition of a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan and a Trump plan to grant amnesty to employers that violated state wage laws.

On Monday night, The New Yorker reported that four women who said they had had romantic relationships or encounters with Schneiderman alleged they had been subjected to nonconsensual physical violence. Reuters has not independently confirmed the accusations.

Schneiderman denied assaulting anyone or engaging in nonconsensual sex but resigned as New York’s AG within hours of the story’s publication, saying in a statement that the allegations would prevent him leading the AG’s office effectively. On Tuesday, New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood was appointed acting AG.

So now what happens to the New York AG’s litigation against the Trump administration? Will Schneiderman’s resignation delay ongoing challenges to controversial Trump policies – or deter opposition to policies not yet announced?

Not according to six Democratic AGs who’ve worked with Schneiderman’s office on litigation to reverse Trump initiatives. In an interview, Washington, D.C., AG Karl Racine said he is “100 percent confident” that he and his colleagues will continue to collaborate on strategic opposition to Trump policies. In emailed statements, Attorneys General Xavier Becerra of California, Maura Healey of Massachusetts, Robert Ferguson of Washington state, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania and Hector Balderas of New Mexico all said they and their colleagues will be as aggressive as ever.

“Our multistate investigations and litigation will continue and we will not miss a beat,” Shapiro’s statement said.

“This work isn’t about one person, it’s about the dedicated women and men in Attorneys General’s offices around the country,” Healey’s statement said. “That work continues.”

When the New York AG’s office challenged Trump administration policies, it was almost always part of a coalition of Democratic state attorneys general, as a December 2017 report from the Democratic Attorneys General Association shows. Schneiderman was a leader on several important issues, including the travel ban, the rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the ban on transgender troops, said DAGA spokeswoman Lizzie Ulmer.

But Ulmer said she expects other Democratic AGs to fill whatever void Schneiderman’s resignation creates. “We never relied on any single AG to file actions,” said Racine, the D.C. attorney general. “As co-chair of DAGA, I can tell you that no single office has carried the load in a disproportionate way.”

Washington AG Ferguson said Democratic AGs have learned to forge alliances to combat the Trump administration. He said there is no reason to think those partnerships will be weakened under New York’s acting AG, Underwood, who has been playing a leading role in the multistate opposition to DACA’s rescission, for instance.

Ulmer of the Democratic AGs’ group said the executive committee, which convened by phone after the New Yorker article appeared, was “troubled” by the allegations against Schneiderman. The group’s executive director issued a statement decrying domestic and sexual violence and calling for the highest standards of accountability for state AGs. It’s significant, said Racine, that the allegations against Schneiderman relate only to his personal conduct, not his work as an AG and certainly not to multistate litigation in which the New York AG’s office was involved.

Ulmer said it’s impossible to know if the accusations against Schneiderman will diminish his former office’s influence in opposing Trump policies but said that, in a way, the question is beside the point. “It’s not a matter of what we’re losing,” she said. “What you’re going to see is continued evidence that Democratic state AGs will work together.”

The Democratic AGs will certainly be tested by Schneiderman’s resignation. He was a megaphone against President Trump’s policies. It will be interesting to see if other AGs have as loud a voice.

Corrects executive board to executive committee.

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