Oregon attorney general explains lawsuits against Trump actions
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum says she is defending Oregon's interests when she joins like-minded colleagues in other states to challenge numerous federal actions taken since Donald Trump became president nine months ago.
The challenges range from joint letters of protest to friend-of-the-court briefs — which offer information and arguments that courts can use in their decision-making — and direct lawsuits against the federal government.
"If Oregonians are being harmed, we will join a letter, a lawsuit, a brief — whatever it is that will have the best shot at demonstrating our concern and our desire to prevent the action from being successful," Rosenblum said at a Washington County Public Affairs Forum luncheon Monday (Oct. 16) in Beaverton.
"It won't be news to you that way too many of these actions have chipped away at our individual freedoms and our collective rights as Oregonians … who believe in the promise of certain inalienable rights and the integrity of the Constitution and the rule of law."
The series of actions goes back just after Republican Trump took office, when Oregon joined two lawsuits against Trump's Jan. 27 order temporarily banning travel from seven Muslim-majority nations. Two federal courts blocked the first order, which was subsequently withdrawn and revised. (The third such order also has been stayed.)
The most recent reaction was last week, when Oregon joined 18 states in California's lawsuit against Trump's Oct. 12 cutoff of federal subsidies that enable lower-income people to afford health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act.
Rosenblum, a Democrat elected to a second full term on the same day Trump won the presidency, said she never anticipated the new workload. She described the series of actions by the Trump administration as "dizzying."
But as the state's chief legal officer, Rosenblum said she and the Department of Justice assess how Oregon's interests may be harmed before she proceeds with counteractions.
"It's not just about signing a piece of paper," she said.
"These legal actions are above and beyond our usual work as the state's law firm. It's not as if we stopped doing that work. We are doing that work.
"We are being careful about using these resources for these matters that I have just described and were not anticipated."
Ready for court
Still, Rosenblum said, Oregon is prepared to file its own lawsuits against federal agencies in a couple of disputes.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke plans to recommend an unspecified shrinkage of the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument in southwest Oregon — President Barack Obama expanded its boundaries in 2016 before leaving office — but there is a question whether the 1906 Antiquities Act empowers a president to shrink or eliminate a national monument.
Rosenblum also said Oregon is prepared to go to court if Trump cuts off all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides reproductive health services for women. The law already bars use of federal funds for abortion, which Planned Parenthood provides in some clinics separate from other services.
Among other challenges mounted by Oregon and other states to Trump administration policy changes:
• Trump's Oct. 6 rollback of requirements under the 2010 Affordable Care Act for employers to provide workers with insurance coverage for birth control, if the employers have religious or moral objections to such coverage.
• Trump's pending repeal, announced Oct. 10, of Obama's 2015 executive order requiring power plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming. The Supreme Court temporarily blocked the Environmental Protection Agency rule in 2016 while a lower court hears a challenge brought by 27 states, many of them coal producers that stand to lose out. (An agency rule cannot be repealed by an executive order.)
• Actions by the U.S. Department of Education to roll back 2011 guidelines on how schools should investigate reports of sexual assault, and Obama-era rules easing loan forgiveness for student borrowers if they were deceived by their schools.
"We are able in Oregon to partner with and support other states as we all engage in these battles together," Rosenblum said.
However, Oregon Solicitor General Ben Gutman did take the lead in a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the challengers to Wisconsin's 2011 redrawing of legislative districts that let Republicans retain their majorities. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Oct. 3.
Such a brief presents information and arguments that the justices can consider in deciding the case.
Turnabout by Democrats
In a brief interview after her talk, Rosenblum said Democratic attorneys general are doing exactly what Republican attorneys general did when Obama was president.
Led by then-Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt — now director of EPA — those states went to court numerous times to challenge rules by EPA and other agencies.
According to The New York Times, the Trump administration has moved or is considering action against 52 environmental rules. Rosenblum said Oregon is involved in counteraction on 20 of those rules.
A group of 27 states went to court to block a 2014 order by Obama to shield undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents from deportation. While that lawsuit did not directly challenge Obama's 2012 order to give such a reprieve to "dreamers" — young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children — Trump moved Sept. 5 to end that order in six months unless Congress acts.
Oregon joined a lawsuit with 15 other states against Trump on Sept. 6.
"We took a page from their playbook," Rosenblum said. "They did just what we are doing, and they were fairly successful. They set the stage for riding their coattails. Frankly, I think we have been more successful than they were."