Democrats look to expand attorney general powers to sue the federal government
The General Assembly passed a bill Wednesday that will give the state’s attorney general more power to sue the federal government on the state’s behalf.
After several executive orders from President Donald J. Trump alarmed Democratic leaders in Annapolis, members of the General Assembly, along with Attorney General Brian Frosh, have crafted a bill to expand the attorney general’s powers in the state. The bill passed the House of Delegates Wednesday after passing the Senate last week. The bill does not require the governor’s signature.
“Frankly, the need for this arises from the, I would say, erratic and implosive and you might even say reckless nature of what’s going in the past few weeks,” Frosh said in a committee hearing on the bill. “There’s been blizzard of executive orders, many of which are ill-advised.”
Senate-Joint Resolution-5 now gives the attorney general the power to act on his own and sue the federal government, a power that most attorneys general from other states have. Currently, Maryland’s attorney general must provide the governor with written notice and the opportunity to review a suit before it is filed.
Frosh said he was specifically concerned with the Trump’s executive orders on immigration, which would defund sanctuary cities, and his executive order establishing a moratorium on refugees from Syria and a travel ban for citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations.
“I believe our democracy is about checks and balances and making Maryland residents have a seat at the table and provide a counter to his administration foreign policy is desperately needed,” said Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-17), who said she is in favor of the bill.
The Maryland Defense Act of 2017 has quickly made its way through the Senate, passing both the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and the House of Delegates Rules and Executive Nominations Committee.
So far the Senate has been split mostly along party lines, with most of the Senate’s Democrats favoring the bill and most Republicans against it. Gov. Larry Hogan has taken a stance against the bill, preferring the General Assembly focus on other issues.
“It is exceptionally disappointing to see an action like this only a few days after Governor Hogan asked legislators to work with him in a bipartisan manner to get things done for Maryland,” said Amelia Chase, a spokesperson for Hogan.“Washington-style party politics have no place here in Annapolis, and we believe Marylanders will see this action for what it really is: a shameful political game that will ultimately harm the people of the state. It’s a game the governor refuses to play.”
Now, Maryland will join other states that have sued the federal government over executive orders. Two weeks ago, a federal judge for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals halted Trump’s travel ban executive order after Washington state and Oregon filed suit against the federal government. Last week a three judge panel upheld the 9th Circuit’s decision.
The Defense of Maryland Act of 2017 was also jointly filed in the House. Del. Kumar Barve (D-17), chair of the Environment and Transportation Committee, said he sees expanding the power of the attorney general as a pre-emptive measure against the new federal administration’s policy, especially potential policy changes at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Barve called Trump’s nominee for EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, an “anti-environmental nutjob.”
“I think Brian Frosh should have the same power that nutjob had when he was attorney general,” Barve said, referring to Pruitt’s numerous lawsuits against the EPA while he was serving as the attorney general for Oklahoma.
“To me that seems wrong, I think the attorney general should have the ability to enter into lawsuit to defend the people of Maryland – period,” Barve said.