- GOP attorneys general across the country say they’re the “last line of defense” against Democrats.
- They’ve already started suing the Biden administration. They got their practice in the Obama years.
- Expect steady lawsuits from state GOP lawyers hoping to thwart Biden’s agenda in court.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Joe Biden can expect a blizzard of lawsuits from red-state attorneys hoping to doom his political agenda and tie up his policies in courts full of judges appointed by former President Donald Trump.
Republican attorneys general have already given the new president a sneak peek into what’s to come.
Even before Biden entered the White House, a coalition of 18 GOP AGs participated in a failed attempt to coax the US Supreme Court to overturn the 2020 election results. And in his first week in office, Biden received a letter from six AGs warning that they’re prepared to sue if they think his actions go out of bounds.
“You’re going to see a lot of AGs step up and begin to file lawsuits, and unfortunately, be involved in pretty deep litigation over the president’s top initiatives,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who spearheaded the letter to Biden, told Insider in a February 4 interview.
With Democrats in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, “We will be that last line of defense against one-party rule in Washington,” Morrisey said.
It’s become standard practice for state attorneys general of the opposing political party to pepper the White House with litigation. The Obama and Trump administrations were besieged by lawsuits from state attorneys hoping to overturn major policies, including on healthcare, immigration, and climate change.
Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, built his national brand by suing the Trump administration more than 100 times.
Democratic attorneys general won about 80% of lawsuits against the Trump administration, according to Paul Nolette, a political science professor at Marquette University who keeps track of such cases on his website. During the Obama years, Republicans won about 60% of suits.
Many of the Republican AGs already fine-tuned their strategies during Obama’s presidency. Others are new and looking for national recognition by chalking up big wins against the White House.
These 12 GOP state lawyers are certain to be lining up against Biden in court. They include an Arkansas AG running against Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be governor in 2022, a 35-year-old serving as Kentucky’s first Black AG, and the top Texas attorney who worked with Trump’s lawyers to try to get Biden’s election tossed out.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
Texas has long been home to prominent GOP attorneys general — and the state now has a vocal leader in its corner: Ken Paxton. He’s a Trump ally and has sued to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
Paxton, working with Trump’s attorneys, led the failed bid to ask the Supreme Court to overturn the presidential election results in battleground states, despite opposition from lawyers in his own office, The New York Times reported.
The state’s attorney general since 2015, Paxton has already achieved some success just days into the Biden administration. A federal judge in late January blocked Biden’s 100-day moratorium on deportations of some undocumented immigrants after Paxton sued, alleging the moratorium was unconstitutional and that it violated an agreement signed by the Trump administration and Texas.
Paxton followed that order with a congratulatory tweet: “Within 6 days of Biden’s inauguration, Texas has HALTED his illegal deportation freeze,” Paxton tweeted. “*This* was a seditious left-wing insurrection. And my team and I stopped it.”
Paxton, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, is also under investigation by the FBI for allegedly using his office to help a wealthy donor, according to the Associated Press. He also pleaded not guilty to securities fraud charges in 2015.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey
Morrisey was a major thorn in the side of the Obama administration and is ready to reprise that role with Biden in the White House.
He led the coalition that sent a warning letter to Biden on January 27. The letter warned that if Biden signs unconstitutional laws or if his administration gets out of bounds, “it will likewise be our responsibility to take action.”
The shot across the bow was designed to set up “guardrails” for the Biden administration, Morrisey told Insider. He added that Biden has already “blown past” what Republican AGs warned against with his early moves in the White House, including a raft of executive orders.
The coal-state Republican — who was a leading critic of President Barack Obama’s environmental policies — cited the new administration’s climate change policies in particular as an area where he’s planning to challenge Biden’s team. Morrisey led a coalition of states that succeeded in convincing the Supreme Court to stall Obama’s signature climate change rule, the Clean Power Plan. It was a major victory for Republican AGs at the time.
The new Democratic team in the White House is “actually the Obama administration on steroids,” Morrisey said of Biden, who has promised to make combating climate change a pillar of his agenda. “We think they’re going further than the Obama administration.”
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr
Carr is the chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association or RAGA — and he’s served as Georgia’s attorney general since 2016 when he was appointed to fill out a term left by a vacancy. He was elected in 2018 to a four-year term.
Carr’s top priorities are protecting the Constitution, the laws of Georgia, and protecting the interest of the state’s residents. He’s also worked on middle ground issues as attorney general, including fighting human trafficking, combating opioid abuse, and protecting elderly residents.
Carr hasn’t always taken the sides of some of the more far-right attorneys general, including Paxton. Last year, he called Paxton’s lawsuit challenging the election results “constitutionally, legally and factually wrong.”
Carr’s office did not respond to a request for comment or an interview.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall
Marshall in November became chairman of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, the policy branch of RAGA. But the Alabama attorney general has said he didn’t know that the group put out a robocall urging people to “march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal,” on January 6, according to a Documented story which uncovered the call.
He condemned the violence and said there were “unauthorized decisions” made without his knowledge.
Marshall served as a district attorney for 16 years before being sworn in as Alabama’s attorney general in 2017. His office called his rise to chairman of RAGA’s policy arm “a nod to his demonstrated expertise and leadership on a variety of national policy issues including the opioid crisis, illegal immigration, and religious liberty.”
Marshall appeared at the White House in December in support of Trump’s election lawsuit.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge
Rutledge is running to be governor of her state in 2022, and she’s facing what could be a tough primary next year against her friend and Trump’s former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Keeping her name in the headlines for challenging Biden’s policies could help Rutledge in her gubernatorial campaign. She backed Paxton’s effort to contest Biden’s election at the Supreme Court and signed on to the cautionary letter led by Morrisey.
“This is Obama 2.0 plus,” Rutledge told Insider. “This is a third Obama term plus even more overreach by President Biden. Elected in 2015, Rutledge battled Obama and Biden during their administration.
The Biden administration, she said, has already overreached on policies like environmental regulations, immigration, and health care.
“We’re going to be looking very closely at these executive orders, the proclamations, memoranda, all of these things, to ensure that our state’s rights are not being trampled on.”
Of particular concern, Rutledge said, is a Biden executive order that pledges to prevent gender and sexual orientation discrimination in school sports. The executive order sparked complaints among conservatives who warned that it would threaten the rights of female athletes by mandating that schools that receive federal funding allow transgender women to compete on women’s sports teams.
“As a female who grew up playing sports, I’m quite concerned about President Biden’s policies and executive order with regard to young men or men who identify as women being able to play in women’s sports,” Rutledge said.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody
Moody, who is up for reelection next year, is viewed in Florida as a young success story. At 31 she became the youngest judge in Florida when she was elected to the circuit court. She became attorney general in 2019 after Pam Bondi, another Trump ally.
Moody ran on a promise to keep politics out of her office but infuriated Democrats last year when she added Florida to the states in Paxton’s election lawsuit, which sought to invalidate the results in four states Biden won.
Politico reported that Moody was once a college Democrat who sued Trump over a condominium dispute. But after taking office, she became a Trump supporter, attended his rallies, and made appearances on right-wing media.
Moody joined 10 other GOP attorneys general in suing Google in December. The lawsuit, initially filed by Paxton, accuses the company of anti-competitive advertising practices. She also joined 48 others in suing Facebook.
The suit claims the social networking company “illegally acquired competitors in a predatory manner and cut services to smaller threats—depriving users from the benefits of competition and reducing privacy protections and services along the way.”
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry
The former Louisiana Republican congressman became the state’s top attorney in 2016. He’s sparred frequently with his Democratic governor and could make a run for that seat in 2023.
“We’re gonna take the playbook that was used during the Obama era when Republican attorney generals stood in the gap and pushed back against an infringement of constitutional rights and some of the overreaching executive orders that President Obama did at that time which crushed businesses,” Landry told Fox News in a January 8 interview.
Landry backed the Texas-led effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in battleground states, although he declined when Trump’s attorneys appealed to him to lead that legal effort, The New York Times reported. Landry was chairman of RAGA in 2020.
In his December 8 statement supporting the Paxton-led lawsuit, Landry said that millions of Louisiana citizens “have deep concerns regarding the conduct of the 2020 federal elections.” He added that “many Louisianans have become more frustrated as some in media and the political class try to sidestep legitimate issues for the sake of expediency.”
Landry’s office did not respond to Insider’s request for comment for this story.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich
Brnovich joined Paxton’s lawsuit against the Biden administration’s order pausing deportations of undocumented immigrants. The attorneys argued Biden’s order went against federal law and was inconsistent with a December 29 memorandum from Trump’s Department of Homeland Security.
Brnovich is a former state prosecutor who was elected attorney general in 2014. During his 2018 campaign, he emphasized his office’s prosecution of “would-be terrorists” and those accused of sex crimes against children, the Associated Press reported.
In 2018, Brnovich joined 20 other states in asking a federal court in Texas to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen
A rising GOP star, Knudsen is a former two-term House speaker in Montana. He also served as the Roosevelt County Attorney in 2018.
Knudsen, at 33, was one of the youngest house speakers in the state and country. He grew up on his family’s farm in eastern Montana — and he’s proud of it. His profile photo on his biography page shows him smiling in a cowboy hat.
During his run for attorney general, Knudson painted himself as a staunch conservative who would help tackle the state’s meth problems in part by supporting Trump’s border wall.
Knudsen signed onto the letter cautioning Biden against overreach. And last month, he exercised his supervisory powers as attorney general in a case involving a COVID-19 curfew for a business, arguing a 10 p.m. curfew defied “common sense.”
“This type of government overreach is devastating to Montana workers and small businesses,” Knudsen said in a statement.
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita
Rokita, a former US congressman, became Indiana’s AG in January. He served as Indiana’s secretary of state prior to going to Congress.
In December, Rokita told the Indianapolis Star he was disappointed that the Supreme Court refused to hear Texas’ election challenge. Indiana had backed the lawsuit before Rokita was elected to his seat.
“It is disappointing the Supreme Court would use discretion to hide from their responsibility to decide a dispute between states,” Rokita told the newspaper. “As Attorney General, and as a former chief elections officer for our state, I will be sure to speak up and speak out for the rule of law, especially as it relates to elections.”
He’s been a staunch defender of Trump and tweeted on January 8, “I will always be for our President @realdonaldtrump.”
Rokita signed on to the January letter warning the Biden White House against overstepping it authority. His office did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron
Cameron, a former top aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is the first African-American attorney general in Kentucky’s history. He was elected in 2019. Cameron is also the first Republican to serve as attorney general in the state since 1948.
Cameron’s office served as the special prosecutor in the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police officers in her home last March. His handling of the case was heavily criticized after a grand jury indicted only one of the three Louisville police officers who fired into Taylor’s apartment as they tried to serve a search warrant. Cameron has said the officers’ actions were justified under Kentucky’s self-defense law since Taylor’s boyfriend fired first.
According to his office, Cameron’s priorities as attorney general include fighting the drug epidemic and helping victims of child abuse and human trafficking.
But it’s his political future that everyone is focusing on. He’s seen as a possible successor to McConnell, or a potential 2023 gubernatorial candidate.
Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch
Fitch became Mississippi’s first woman attorney general when she took office in January 2020.
She supported Texas’ effort to contest Biden’s victory in battleground states and signed on to the Morrisey-led letter warning the Democratic president not to overstep.
“I have joined my colleagues in supporting Texas’ efforts to ensure that our elections are free and fair,” Fitch said in a December statement when she joined the Texas lawsuit. “Voter fraud elsewhere dilutes the votes of Mississippians and it makes a mockery of the very foundation of our government. I am proud to defend the votes of the people of Mississippi and will continue to fight for their rights.”
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