As the 2018 mid-terms approach, objective, nonpartisan information is increasingly hard to come by — and more crucial than ever. NAAG's interactive map of 2018 state and territory elections provides an at-a-glance view of the 2018 AG races, linking to comprehensive resources on every contest.Read More
During the debate over marriage equity, any number of attorneys general refused to defend existing state same sex marriage bans and a few affirmatively challenged them. These high profile decisions prompted much hand ringing and more than a few law review articles….Read More
One of the hallmarks of the Obama Administration was its commitment to cooperate with state efforts to enforce the law. Today, the U. S. Department of Education unsurprisingly proposed a rule that hopes to stop state government from enforcing the law against illegal activity by student loan servicers.Read More
Ohio AG Mike DeWine has sued the DuPont Corporation for the illegal dumping of toxic chemicals into the Ohio River and is seeking both restitution and damages. Is this a harbinger of things to come as the federal government retreats from enforcing their own laws?Read More
We need to start discussing the contours of an opioid settlement today, and to demand that public health principles be front and center. Without that discussion, and the priorities that emerge from it, we are destined to repeat past mistakes that must not be repeated.Read More
Congratulations are in order to NH AG Gordon MacDonald and NH Governor Chris Sununu for creating a Civil Rights Unit in the Office of Attorney General. Pledging not only to enforce existing anti-discrimination laws, the new unit will also work closely with local communities to prevent bias and discrimination. This is exactly the right decision for these increasingly troubled times.
- Holly Ramer, New Hampshire attorney general adds civil rights unit, Concord Monitor, Dec. 15, 2017.
The wage-theft saga continues, as evidenced by these recent actions brought by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
In a May 2017 report, the Economic Policy Institute found that in 10 states (California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas) 2.4 million workers lose approximately $8 billion annually as a result of receiving an effective hourly rate less than the states' mandated minimum wage. These findings suggest that nationally, employers are pocketing $15 billion in employee wages! This scourge overwhelmingly impacts low-wage industries, where immigrant and other vulnerable, marginalized communities predominate the labor force.
These cases will generally not garner the national spotlight. But they are just as important as the actions that have generated far greater national attention. They have immediate real-life impact on affected communities and send a clear signal that some state attorneys general remain on the labor law enforcement beat.
EPI Report: Employers steal $15 billion a year from workers by paying less than the minimum wage, Economic Policy Institute, May 10, 2017.
California Case: Attorney General Becerra Files Suit Against Janitorial Subcontracting Company for Wage Theft and Violating Tax Laws, Highland Community News, Nov 30, 2017.
Massachusetts Case: Sean Philip Cotter, AG: Cohasset hotel didn’t pay workers enough, The Patriot Ledger, Dec 1, 2017.
Ma. AG Maura Healey is opposing efforts by a small museum in western part of her state from selling off two Norman Rockwell paintings. I post this as a reminder that for all of the national attention to the opioid epidemic, pharmaceutical price fixing, and either suing the Trump administration or filling the enforcement void left by federal retrenchment, attorneys general are still back home doing their in-state jobs. And we are talking Norman Rockwell here!
- Terry Cowgill, Attorney General Healey sides with opponents of Berkshire Museum art sale, The Berkshire Edge (Oct. 31, 2017).
It is no secret that for two years Ct. Attorney General George Jepsen and his experienced antitrust division have been investigating and litigating against generic drug manufacturers. The case exploded this week with the announcement that 46 other attorneys general officially joined the case and asked a federal court to expand both the number of companies from six to eighteen and the number of drugs from two to fifteen. The potential liability to the generics companies is staggering, and the combined strength of 47 state attorneys general makes this one of the major cases pending in the country today.
- Press Release, Connecticut Attorney General, AG Jepsen Leads Coalition in New, Expanded Complaint in Federal Generic Drug Antitrust Lawsuit (Oct. 31, 2017).
Even as the headlines note the opposition of some attorneys general to the President's immigration policies, other divisions within AG offices are mounting other challenges. This case filed by 5 state AGs is a serious challenge to the President's vehicle policies. In July, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s suspended the rollout of the Obama administration's regulation that would penalize automakers for failing to meet certain fuel emission standards.
David Shepardson, States sue Trump administration over delayed fuel-economy fines, Reuters (Sept. 11, 2017).
James Tierney provides a brief description on the role of state attorneys general in challenging or supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy or DACA.
This audio clip will be updated as developments unfold.
On Tuesday, the citizens of Chicago woke up to discover that their own Attorney General, Lisa Madigan, had sued the City of Chicago and its Police Department and is now asking a federal judge to force the City and other stakeholders to negotiate a consent agreement that would bring about long overdue police reform. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel supports the lawsuit and stood with the Attorney General at her press conference. This odd coupling is the result of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions backing away from an agreement in principle that followed a scathing U.S. DOJ report in January 2017 detailing civil rights violations by the Chicago police. Indeed, the U.S. DOJ initiated its pattern and practice investigation and issued its findings at the urging of General Madigan.
Regarding Tuesday’s lawsuit, General Madigan said, “[a]s the state attorney general, we are essentially stepping into the shoes of the U.S. Department of Justice – shoes that the DOJ has abandoned....”
Without weighing in on the specifics of Chicago police reform, I want to note the importance of Madigan's decision. The Illinois Attorney General is showing that, in the face of actions taken by an administration rolling back reforms initiated by the previous administration, state officials can turn to federal courts to create federal oversight, compel reform and ultimately bring about justice.
The importance of Madigan's decision is therefore not limited to police reform. As has been well chronicled, the Trump administration has walked away from numerous initiatives in criminal justice, environment, labor and, of course, civil rights.
As Madigan's suit makes clear, this administration’s politically motivated actions do not change the facts, nor do they change our federal and state laws and constitutions. State attorneys general have broad jurisdiction in all of these areas, and many are guided by a sense of justice that will not allow facts and injustices brought to light by the Obama administration to simply be ignored.
Most initiatives brought by Democratic attorneys general have been aimed at stopping federal retrenchment. But in the months ahead, many more state attorneys general are likely to follow Madigan's leadership and take their own actions in both state and federal courts. We should all be proud, and somewhat relieved, that our constitutionally guaranteed system of federalism has ensured that the flawed actions of one president and his attorney general cannot stop our state attorneys general in their pursuit of justice.
- Press Release, Illinois Attorney General, Attorney General Madigan Files Lawsuit Against City Of Chicago To Obtain Consent Decree For Police Reform (Aug. 29, 2017).
- See, David Schaper, Illinois Officials Ask Courts To Order Changes In Chicago Police Policies, NPR (Aug. 30, 2017).
- See, Press Release, United States Department of Justice, Justice Department Announces Findings of Investigation into Chicago Police Department, (Jan. 13, 2017).
A bi-partisan group of 67 former Attorneys General of the states and jurisdictions today pointed to the example of one of their colleagues to remind us all of the moral imperative to respond directly to those who amplify the voices of hate. See the statement below issued by the former Attorneys General, and here is the link to former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley‘s response to the KKK:
Bill Baxley practices law in Birmingham, Alabama: firstname.lastname@example.org
CONTACT: James Tierney, Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School:
STATEMENT BY FORMER STATE ATTORNEYS GENERAL
THERE ARE TIMES IN THE LIFE OF A NATION, OR A PRESIDENT, OR A STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL WHEN ONE IS CALLED UPON TO RESPOND DIRECTLY TO THE VOICE OF HATE.
AS FORMER STATE ATTORNEYS GENERAL - WE TAKE THE LIBERTY OF REMINDING AMERICANS - AS WE REMIND OURSELVES - THAT EVENTS CAN CALL OUT THE WORST IN US -- AND THE BEST.
IN 1971 THE TWENTY-NINE YEAR OLD ATTORNEY GENERAL OF ALABAMA BEGAN HIS QUEST TO BRING TO JUSTICE THE PERPETRATORS OF THE BIRMINGHAM CHURCH BOMBING WHICH KILLED FOUR LITTLE GIRLS. IT WAS A CRIME ROOTED IN HATE AND HIS DETERMINATION TO PROSECUTE THE CASE GAVE RISE TO VOICES OF LEADERS OF HATE. HE FACED POLITICAL FUROR, LACK OF COOPERATION FROM FEDERAL AND STATE GOVERNMENT AGENCIES AND CONSTANT THREATS OF PHYSICAL VIOLENCE AND DEATH. BUT HE PERSISTED. IT TOOK YEARS BUT HE OBTAINED A CONVICTION.
IN 1976 WHEN THE GRAND DRAGON OF THE KU KLUX KLAN WROTE A THREATENING LETTER AND DEMANDED THAT ALABAMA ATTORNEY GENERAL BILL BAXLEY RESPOND DIRECTLY TO HIS LETTER, HE DID.
WE COMMEND HIS RESPONSE (SEE LINK ABOVE) TO THE ATTENTION OF ALL WHO SEEK TO EQUIVOCATE IN TIMES OF MORAL CRISIS.
FORMER ATTORNEYS GENERAL,
Robert Abrams, New York
Ronald Amemiya, Hawaii
Jeff Amestoy, Vermont
Bruce Babbitt, Arizona
Thurbert Baker, Georgia
Paul Bardacke, New Mexico
Steve Beshear, Kentucky
Bruce Botelho, Alaska
Margery Bronster, Hawaii
Charlie Brown, West Virginia
Richard Bryan, Nevada
Charles Burson, Tennessee
Bonnie Campbell, Iowa
Steve Clark, Arkansas
Walter Cohen, Pennsylvania
Robert Cooper, Tennessee
J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Maryland
Fred Cowan, Kentucky
Frankie Sue Del Papa, Nevada
Jerry Diamond, Vermont
Richard Doran, Florida
John Easton, Vermont
Rufus Edmisten, North Carolina
Drew Edmondson, Oklahoma
Tyrone Fahner, Illinois
Lee Fisher, Ohio
Karen Freeman – Wilson, Indiana
Terry Goddard, Arizona
Chris Gorman, Kentucky
Slade Gorton, Washington
Jennifer Granholm, Michigan
Scott Harshbarger, Massachusetts
Peter Harvey, New Jersey
Hubert H . Humphrey III, Minnesota
Drew Ketterer, Maine
Oliver Koppell, New York
Peg Lautenschlager, Wisconsin
Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut
Michael Lilly, Hawaii
Alicia Limtiaco, Guam
Bill Lockyer, California
David Louie, Hawaii
Robert Marks, Hawaii
Brian McKay, Nevada
Jeff Modisett, Indiana
Betty Montgomery, Ohio
Mike Moore. Mississippi
Jim Petro, Ohio
Jeffrey Pine, Rhode Island
Warren Price III, Hawaii
Hector Richard, Puerto Rico
Clarine Nardi Riddle, Connecticut
Dennis Roberts, Rhode Island
Stephen Rosenthal, Virginia
Stephen Sachs, Maryland
James Shannon, Massachusetts
Mark Shurtleff, Utah
William Sorrell, Vermont
Robert Spagnoletti, District of Columbia
Robert Stephan, Kansas
Mary Sue Terry, Virginia
James Tierney, Maine
Anthony F. Troy, Virginia
Jim Guy Tucker, Arkansas
Paul Van Dam, Utah
Bob Wefald, North Dakota
Grant Woods, Arizona
This fall, the Harvard Berkman Klein Center will begin an "AG Tech Forum" bringing together thought leaders from both the tech industry and the attorney general community to explore issues such as privacy and artificial intelligence.
I am proud to be involved in this effort along with my friend Travis Leblanc, formerly with the California Office of Attorney General and Chief of Enforcement at the Federal Communications Commission. More information will be forthcoming in the months ahead.
It is an indictment of the current age that we must pause and applaud a rare moment of bipartisan cooperation around an incredibly important and seemingly uncontroversial issue. But such are the times.
This did not take place in the halls of Congress, of course, but rather among a group 32 state attorneys general, led by Massachusetts AG Maura Healey, a Democrat, and Colorado AG Cynthia Coffman, a Republican.* On May 22, the group sent letters to members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees declaring their bipartisan opposition to the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate all federal funding to the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). The corporation is a grant-making organization created by Congress for the purpose of distributing federal appropriations to nonprofit organizations that provide civil legal assistance. This group of state AGs joins the American Bar Association, state judges, over 150 law firms and many other concerned groups in opposing this assault on civil legal services for low-income Americans. This includes the elderly, and low-income military veterans and military families.
It is only fitting that a bipartisan coalition of public officials rallies around this organization. LSC’s conception began under President Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty” and culminated in the enactment of a bipartisan bill signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1974 that created the grant-funding organization. According to the LSC website, in describing the need for the organization, President Nixon wrote:
Here each day the old, the unemployed, the underprivileged, and the largely forgotten people of our Nation may seek help. Perhaps it is an eviction, a marital conflict, repossession of a car, or misunderstanding over a welfare check—each problem may have a legal solution. These are small claims in the Nation’s eye, but they loom large in the hearts and lives of poor Americans.
The need for civil legal services for those living near or below the poverty line, as well as middle-income Americans, has never been greater. According to the ABA’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services 2016 Report, approximately 63 million Americans are eligible for civil legal assistance through an LSC grantee, meaning their salaries were at or below 125% of the federal poverty line. And yet, current congressional appropriations allow LSC and its grantees to serve only a small percentage of those eligible for legal services. In many cases, legal services agencies must turn away individuals in need of legal assistance. The report found that “in some jurisdictions, more than eighty percent of litigants in poverty are unrepresented in matters involving basic life needs, such as evictions, mortgage foreclosures, child custody disputes, child-support proceedings, and debt collection cases.”
ABA President Linda Klein’s testimony before a U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee shed further light on this dire situation. Since 2010, funding for LSC has dropped approximately 18%, while the number of individuals eligible for free civil legal services has increased 25%.
Presidential and congressional defunding threats have long been part of LSC’s history. In 1982, President Reagan recommended that Congress not reauthorize LSC funding. Interestingly, state AGs also rose up to defend LSC, on a bipartisan basis, against the Reagan assault. Although Congress rejected President Reagan’s proposal, it did reduce the budget and impose onerous restrictions on LSC attorneys. Similarly, in the mid-90’s, a Republican controlled Congress implemented another round of cuts to the nonprofit corporation.
Defunding LSC would be devastating to some state legal services organizations. For instance, in 2015, Legal Services of Alabama relied on LSC for 88% of its funding, Dakota Plains Legal Services of South Dakota received 86% of its funding from LSC, and Montana’s Legal Services Association received 43% of its funding from LSC.
As news outlets have noted, this proposal would, in many cases, impact the very residents that supported the President during the election. The South Dakota and Montana Attorneys General, Republicans in states whose electoral votes went to Trump, joined the coalition of state AGs opposing the administration’s proposal.
Aside from the moral dimension of this proposal, studies have shown that civil legal services providers actually have a positive impact on state and local economies. A study commissioned by the Tennessee Bar Association in 2015 entitled, "Economic Impact of Civil Legal Aid Organizations in Tennessee," found that not only did the organizations have positive impacts on the client population, but with every dollar invested in a legal service organization, over $11 was produced “in financial benefits, extending to businesses, local governments and individuals across all social classes.”
The rationale for this latest attack on LSC comes under the guise of placing “more control in the hands of State and local governments, which better understand the needs of their communities.” On this point, the President may be right. So, to the administration and members of Congress, take it from 32 state attorneys general, the chief legal officers of their respective states, when they say, “[a]t a time of constrained state budgetary resources, federal funding plays an increasingly critical role in the provision of these services.” (emphasis added).
The fact that state attorneys general from both parties came together to announce their opposition to this unfortunate proposal, in this age of increased political polarization, should demonstrate to the administration and members of Congress the pressing need for continued and enhanced civil legal services for those who need it the most.
* This post initially misstated the number of state attorneys general in the coalition opposing the defunding of the Legal Services Corporation. It is 32 not 34 and has now been corrected.
In a letter sent last week, 21 state attorneys general and the Office of Consumer Protection of Hawaii urged Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to immediately reconsider “the Department of Education’s revocation of critical student loan service reforms.” The policy and guidance memoranda withdrawn by the Department addressed industry-wide procedures by student loan servicing companies that were the subject of investigations and enforcement actions by the Illinois and Washington State Attorneys General, among others.
The April 24 letter highlights some of the industry practices that contributed to more than a quarter of borrowers being delinquent or in default on a student loan, according to a report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB):
According to Forbes, 44 million borrowers owe approximately $1.3 trillion in student loans, making it the second-largest type of consumer debt behind mortgages.
- Letter from Twenty-One State Attorneys General to Department of Education on Revocation of Student Loan Borrower Protections (April 24, 2017).
- Press Release, Illinois Attorney General's Office, Madigan & 20 Attorneys General Oppose U.S. Department of Education’s Rollback of Student Loan Servicing Reforms (April 24, 2017).
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report, Student loan servicing: Analysis of public input and recommendations for reform (September 2015).