As attorney general of Texas, Greg Abbott filed at least 27 suits against the Obama administration. “I go into the office, I sue the federal government, and I go home,” Abbott — now governor of that state — famously boasted to Tea Party activists after President Obama’s first term.
Sound familiar? In Massachusetts, Attorney General Maura Healey is already party to 18 suits against the Trump administration — and Trump has only been in office since January. Her legal activism lines up well in a state that loathes Trump, just like Abbott’s lined up well in Texas.
Still, if anti-Trump litigation benefits Massachusetts citizens, as Healey argues, it’s fair to point out it also helps Healey. Taking on a president puts Healey in the national spotlight, generating favorable headlines. Her high profile actions against Trump are also renewing questions about her long-term political ambitions. In a poll released last June by WBUR/MassINC Polling group, she was the only Democrat who pushed support for Republican Governor Charlie Baker under 50 percent. Of 504 registered voters surveyed, 48 percent picked Baker, 36 percent picked Healey, and 13 percent said they were undecided.
Healey told me she’s running for reelection, not for governor. When it comes to suing Trump, she said she first asks: “What does this mean for Massachusetts?” She doesn’t file suit “because I didn’t support him or I’m part of another party,” but because “unfortunately, we have a president and an administration that show a callous disregard for the rule of law and take actions that are illegal, unconstitutional, or adverse to the interests of residents or businesses.”
What about the pricetag? When Abbott was busy suing the Obama administration from Texas, one AP tally put the cost of litigation “at $2.58 million and more than 14,113 hours spent by staff and state lawyers working those cases.” Healey said she’s working with the lawyers and investigators she has. No one works exclusively on Trump-related suits.
Dan Shores, one of two Republican lawyers who have announced plans to run for AG, said the plethora of suits filed by Healey against Trump amount to a “priorities question. . . . Do you want your AG’s office to be a political platform for a candidate and a party or do you want your taxpayer dollars to be used to help enforce the laws in Massachusetts?”
But it’s not that simple. The policies challenged by Healey affect all citizens, including those in Massachusetts. This month, for example, she filed suits against Trump’s move to halt federal health care subsidies and his rollback of a contraception coverage mandate. In September, she challenged the Trump administration’s rollback of clean water protections, the delay of the vehicle emissions rule, and the undermining of protections for young undocumented immigrants.
In other actions: Healey intervened in a lawsuit to defend the Obama administration’s decision to terminate a national accrediting agency that facilitated the abuse of student borrowers by predatory, for-profit schools. She sued the Department of Education and secretary Betsy DeVos for violating federal law by rescinding a rule that protects student loan borrowers. She intervened in a lawsuit against the EPA for halting regulations of leaks of methane emissions.
Healey also filed a lawsuit against the Department of Energy for delaying energy-efficient standards for ceiling fans — and for those who might consider that frivolous, the Trump administration reversed course and finalized the ceiling fan efficiency standards as written.
“I wish he’d stop,” she said of Trump. “But until he does, we’re going to be there to hold him accountable.” In other words, Healey, too, goes to the office and thinks about suing the federal government. In Texas, that kind of thinking led to the governor’s office.