ON THE ISSUES: 19 for 2019
December 23, 2019
As impeachment continues to dominate the news and the nation readies for historic elections in 2020, Democratic Attorneys General continued to be the most effective leaders protecting our democracy in 2019. Here at the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA), we are ready for what lies ahead in Washington, D.C. and in the states in 2020 and beyond.
Democratic AGs continued to serve as the strongest checks and balances in our democracy, holding this Administration, corporations, and all institutions legally accountable to the people of their states. That’s why Democratic AGs have been called “a judicial wall against the Trump administration” and “some of the most powerful forces fighting the Trump White House.”
And the law is on their side. As USA Today put it, “Democratic attorneys general are winning more often” compared to their Republican AG counterparts. Here are 19 highlights from 2019’s dream team of Democratic Attorneys General:
- Saved the 2020 Census
When President Trump attempted to add a discriminatory citizenship question to the 2020 Census, 16 Democratic AGs led by New York AG Tish James stepped in to sue the Trump administration and successfully BLOCKED the question’s inclusion on the form. The inclusion of a citizenship question would have resulted in a massive undercount of the population ahead of redistricting, impacting congressional districts and billions of dollars in federal funding. The Democratic coalition secured a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court in June. “Every single person in this country deserves to be counted, plain and simple,” AG James said. “Justice has prevailed.”
- Protected Reproductive Freedom
Democratic AGs are succeeding in the fight to protect reproductive rights against an administration that wants to deny women access to reproductive freedom.
In 2019, the Trump administration tried to implement a revised rule that would roll back the contraception coverage mandate allowing employers to refuse to provide no-cost contraceptive coverage to women employees by citing religious or moral objections. Democratic AGs sued again and secured preliminary injunctions BLOCKING this rule again. (Reminder: In 2017, the original draft rule was blocked by lawsuits brought separately by Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro and California AG Xavier Becerra).
In May 2019, the Trump administration attempted to impose a “conscious rule” that would allow health care providers, insurers, and employers to refuse to provide or pay for medical services like abortion that they say violate their religious and moral beliefs. Democratic AGs sued. 20 Democratic AGs led by New York AG Tish James sued the Department of Health and Human Services over the newly released “conscience rule.” California AG Xavier Becerra and Washington AG Bob Ferguson filed separate lawsuits challenging the “conscious rule.” In November, a federal judge voided the “conscious rule” and BLOCKED the dangerous policy from going into effect.
- Prevented Dangerous Gun Policy
Led by Washington AG Bob Ferguson, 20 Democratic AGs BLOCKED the Trump administration from allowing 3D-printed gun blueprints to be posted on the internet. Following previous wins in the lower courts, this decision from a federal judge came down in November. “It is baffling that the Trump Administration continued to work so hard to allow domestic abusers, felons and terrorists access to untraceable, undetectable 3D-printed guns,” said AG Ferguson.
In April, a challenge to Massachusetts’ assault weapons ban was rejected by a federal appeals court. The judge also upheld Massachusetts AG Healey‘s 2016 enforcement notice to gun sellers and manufacturers clarifying what constitutes a “copy” or “duplicate” weapon under the state’s 1998 assault weapon ban, including copies of the Colt AR-15 and the Kalashnikov AK-47. AG Healey called the ruling “a defeat for the gun lobby and a victory for families everywhere.”
- Blocked the Border Wall
In October, California AG Xavier Becerra led nine Democratic AGs to file a motion for partial summary judgment to block the Trump administration from diverting $3.6 billion in military construction funds toward construction of a border wall. The Democratic AG coalition argued the funds in question were appropriated by Congress for specific military construction projects, not a border wall. In December, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction BLOCKING the administration from moving forward with using the funds to fund the border wall. “This is a critical victory that sends a strong message to the White House: you are not above the law,” AG Becerra said.
Separately, in February, 16 Democratic AGs sued President Trump over his administration’s phony national emergency declaration claiming a crisis at the border.
HOLDING THE LINE
- Defending DACA
When the Trump Administration issued an order to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), a coalition of 21 Democratic AGs led by California AG Xavier Becerra, District of Columbia AG Karl Racine, and New York AG Tish James stood with immigrant families and challenged the rule, arguing that ending DACA would violate the Administrative Procedure Act, the federal law governing administrative agencies as well as the rights of DACA participants. The Democratic AG coalition is drawing attention to the important role DACA recipients play in our communities as they fight tirelessly to protect DREAMers. In November, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case, and a decision is forthcoming.
- Protecting Endangered Species
Democratic AGs were at the forefront of protecting wildlife and our environment this year. When the Trump administration attempted to roll back the Endangered Species Act, weakening protections that have kept species from extinction for more than 45 years, Democratic AGs fought back. California AG Xavier Becerra, Maryland AG Brian Frosh and Massachusetts AG Maura Healey are leading a coalition of 20 Democratic AGs in a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken the Endangered Species Act that has protected thousands of iconic and threatened species, including the bald eagle, California condor, grizzly bear, and humpback whale. “As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet’s biodiversity, not to destroy it,” AG Becerra said.
- Fighting for Health Care
As Republican AGs attempt to gut the Affordable Care Act and strip health care coverage from nearly 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, a Democratic AG coalition is fighting to protect critical care for families and communities nationwide. In February, Colorado AG Phil Weiser, Iowa AG Tom Miller, Michigan AG Dana Nessel, and Nevada AG Aaron Ford joined the Democratic coalition bringing the team to 21 AGs fighting for health care. Oral arguments took place in front of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in July. In December, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the ACA’s Individual Mandate unconstitutional and sent the case back to the lower court.
- Taking on Corruption
District of Columbia AG Karl Racine and Maryland AG Brian Frosh continue to prevail in their lawsuit against President Trump for violating the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution by profiting from his presidency. In December, the full Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard this important lawsuit to stop President Trump’s blatant corruption.
REACHING ACROSS THE AISLE
- Combating the Opioid Crisis
Communities all across America have been affected by the opioid epidemic. This is why Democratic AGs continue to tackle the crisis by making sure responsible parties are held accountable for their role in the epidemic. In 2019, Democratic AGs either expanded their existing litigation, opened investigations, or filed new suits against pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family. Democratic AGs also pushed for just settlement offers that reflect the roles responsible parties have played in the crisis and led negotiations with their Republican counterparts and some of the nation’s largest drug distribution companies.
In addition to the ongoing investigations and lawsuits, Democratic AGs led a bipartisan coalition of 56 state and territory attorneys general in issuing a letter calling for Congress to permanently classify fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I drugs. Because the crisis is ongoing, Democratic AGs will continue these efforts in 2020.
- Holding Drug Companies Accountable for Price Fixing
Running parallel to the ongoing opioid investigation and lawsuits, Connecticut AG William Tong led an effort by 43 states in a lawsuit directed at 20 companies for illegal drug pricing. The lawsuit argues companies were deliberately and illegally collaborating to set drug prices. “We have hard evidence that shows the generic drug industry perpetrated a multi-billion dollar fraud on the American people. We have emails, text messages, telephone records, and former company insiders that we believe will prove a multi-year conspiracy to fix prices and divide market share for huge numbers of generic drugs,” AG Tong said in a statement.
- Reigning in Robocalls
51 Democratic AGs are working together with 12 major phone companies to fight robocalls. North Carolina AG Josh Stein is leading the charge saying, “[we are] taking action against calls that are a massive source of fraud.” Under the agreement, carriers will implement call-blocking technology, make anti-robocall tools available for free to consumers and deploy a new system that would label calls as real or spam.
TRENDING IN THE STATES
- Combating Hate Crimes
Over the course of the year, Democratic Attorneys General have taken significant actions to combat the rise in hate crimes across the country. Michigan AG Dana Nessel launched a new Hate Crimes Unit within the Michigan DOJ to investigate crimes motivated by hate and bias. Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum, who chaired the Oregon Hate Crime Prevention Task Force, introduced state legislation proposing a targeted investment in a model of service that gives assistance to individuals and communities impacted by hate, regardless of whether the incident is ultimately prosecutable. The bill was signed into law on July 15. Minnesota AG Keith Ellison has travelled the state holding town halls talking about race and his office’s efforts to combat the rise in hate crimes. And Virginia AG Mark Herring introduced legislation in the Virginia General Assembly to update Virginia’s definition of a hate crime to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability – bringing the definition into line with the federal definition.
- Ending Sexual Assault Kit Backlog
For too long sexual assault kits had gone untested in states across the country, creating large backlogs and delays in justice for sexual assault survivors. Democratic AGs took critical steps this year to eliminate the number of untested kits and pursue justice. North Carolina AG Josh Stein successfully fought for funding in the state budget to pay for the testing of the backlog in North Carolina. Wisconsin AG Josh Kaul tested the entire backlog left by his Republican predecessor, and worked to secure the funding to continue investigating these cases. Additionally, AG Kaul worked with law enforcement, survivors, and advocates to propose a new process going forward that could help in making sure kits do not go untested.
- Fighting for Workers
Democratic AGs have been pushing for better wages for hourly workers all over the country. As part of Washington AG Bob Ferguson’s effort to protect workers, his office created a Workers Protection Initiative. Over the course of the year, his office has worked to end more than 100 “anti-poaching agreements” impacting 147,000 corporate locations nationwide. These boilerplate corporate agreements prohibit employees from moving among stores in the same corporate chain, a practice that can keep wages low and hurt economic mobility for workers. “In under two years, we’ve stopped the use of no-poach clauses at more than 150 corporate chains nationwide,” AG Ferguson said. “Without no-poach clauses holding them back, millions of workers now have access to better mobility and pay. I look forward to sharing our success with Congress.” Additionally, a coalition of 14 Democratic AGs led by Massachusetts AG Maura Healey entered into agreements with major fast food companies that would prohibit those entities from using no-poach policies.
- Addressing the Student Loan Crisis
Democratic AGs are actively working to protect students, especially those who have taken loans to earn an education. Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro’s office secured “nearly $50M” in Student Loan debt relief for Pennsylvanians. Massachusetts AG Maura Healey led an effort calling on Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education to immediately “forgive the loans” of former ITT Tech students who attended the now bankrupt for-profit school. And Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum hosted her second Student Loan Symposium highlighting the important and critical role state Attorneys General play in addressing the ongoing student debt crisis and protecting students.
- Leading Cannabis Reform
As the nation continues to come to terms with the ongoing opioid epidemic, many are seeing medicinal marijuana as a potential alternative to the highly addictive painkillers. Additionally, criminal justice reform advocates have sought to decriminalize marijuana possession and use and even move toward full recreational acceptance. In that effort, Democratic AGs across the country have worked hard to find ways to improve their constituents’ lives and increase health and wellness in addition to bringing about much needed criminal justice reform. Virginia AG Mark Herring has called for immediate decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana, action to address past convictions, and moving towards legal and regulated adult use. He also invited experts in the field to come to the Commonwealth to discuss ways to move these efforts forward. Additionally, 20 Democratic AGs from across the country showed their support for improved banking practices around cannabis-related businesses by sending a letter to Congress in support of the STATES Act.
- Exposing E-Cigarettes
As Americans, and specifically young Americans, continue to suffer from complications of e-cigarette use, state Attorneys General have taken action to protect the health and well-being of this vulnerable population. North Carolina AG Josh Stein is leading a lawsuit against the e-cigarette company JUUL and other e-cigarette companies accusing them of “aggressively targeting children” and “not require[ing] appropriate age verification when selling these dangerous and addictive products.” Additionally, Democratic AGs in District of Columbia, New York, California, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Illinois have filed separate lawsuits against JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. In addition to those suits, Democratic AGs in Colorado, Connecticut, and Oregon are currently investigating JUUL and its marketing practices.
- Reforming the Criminal Justice System
Delaware AG Kathy Jennings has only been in office for a year, but she’s already a leading voice in the world of criminal justice reform. At the beginning of the year, AG Jennings released a strategic memo that “recommended 37 sweeping reforms in eight primary areas of oversight, including charges, bail, pleas, sentencing, probation, and treatment of minors, as well as expungements, pardons, and commutations.” According to The Intercept, this memo is “six pages of badassery.” Throughout the year, AG Jennings continued to highlight key actions on criminal justice reform at national conferences like Netroots Nation and the Progressive Strategy Summit. Newly elected Nevada AG Aaron Ford also released a progressive plan for criminal justice reform upon entering office. “Ford said the policy was his attempt to continue his work as a state legislator in pushing for comprehensive criminal justice reform, while creating an example of how a prosecutor’s office can fairly balance the needs of all parties in the criminal justice system.”
- States’ Rights to Protect Our Planet
According to the State Impact Center, state AGs have taken more than 300 major actions to protect our environment and address the ongoing climate crisis. 24 Democratic AGs are leading the states’ rights fight against Trump administration rollbacks in car emissions standards that would harm our environment. California AG Xavier Becerra said, “California’s Clean Car Standards are achievable. They not only work, many other states around the country have chosen to adopt them. The Trump Administration, on the other hand, has chosen to side with polluters. We believe we’re on the right side of history.”