OLYMPIA – Washington has filed or been part of 26 legal challenges to the federal government this year, many of them to make President Donald Trump “accountable to the rule of law,” state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said.
It successfully fought a proposed travel ban for people from certain Muslim-majority countries, joined multistate challenges to changes to rules on energy efficiency, clean air and ozone and is part of fights against changes to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as well as new restrictions on access to birth control and on military service by transgender individuals.
In a letter this week to Republicans in the state Senate, Ferguson defends the legal actions the state has taken against the Trump administration – as well as two against the Obama administration over problems at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
He also takes issue with a request for the information, which he said came from “apparently anonymous Senate Republicans,” noting that his office is so far 6-0 for challenges that have been decided.
“If any senators believe I should not be taking action to protect Washington Dreamers, women, students, businesses, and vulnerable individuals in need of affordable health care, I encourage them to contact me directly,” he wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler.
But Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said Thursday the staff request was routine and not political.
“It’s not unusual for senators to have a staff member request information and remain anonymous,” Schoesler said. The procedure would have been the same if it came from nonpartisan staff, he added.
Several of his colleagues had expressed interest in the number of lawsuits pitting the state against the federal government, Schoesler said.
“I’m sure it’s gotten attention because Attorney General Ferguson is pretty good at grabbing headlines,” he said, adding he wasn’t among senators requesting the information but was interested to see what was on the list.
Ferguson said the cost for most of the legal action was “minimal,” particularly when it was joining in a multistate action in which another state was taking the lead. He noted that when his predecessor, Republican Rob McKenna, joined a multistate challenge to the Affordable Care Act, McKenna said the cost to the state was negligible. The same is true for most actions against the Trump administration, Ferguson said.
The cases on which Washington is taking the lead are handled by staff in divisions that receive their money from lawsuits the state has won or received settlements and don’t get paid out of the state General Fund, Ferguson added. Much of the work is done in the evenings or weekends by attorneys who are on salary, he said.
Schoesler said he still wonders how the attorneys’ hours would be accounted for. The Legislature routinely gets billed for legal research or an assistant attorney general attending a meeting.
The state also filed two lawsuits against the Obama administration before Trump was inaugurated, Ferguson said. Both are over Hanford, one to get a shorter timeline for cleanup of nuclear waste and the other to protect workers from exposure to toxic fumes.
The second one is so complicated it’s likely to cost more than all the actions against Trump administration policies combined, Ferguson said.
“I believe the value of the litigation justifies the cost,” he wrote. “If you or your colleagues disagree, and believe my office should not be standing up for Hanford workers, please let me know.”