Since President Donald Trump took office, Oregon has sued the administration 16 times.
The lawsuits mostly involve attempts to block Trump administration policies — including suits challenging the crackdown on sanctuary cities, the elimination of a law that makes it easier for young immigrants to stay in the country, the travel ban and efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
On average, the state’s caseload against the White House amounts to one lawsuit per month since the inauguration. But compared to other states, Oregon is playing a supporting role.
“We did not initiate any of those lawsuits, we have joined those lawsuits,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum told OPB. “So we are one of a number states that have signed on as parties to those.”
This pace of lawsuits against a sitting president is something new for Oregon. Still, Rosenblum says the state’s legal fights are taking less work and taxpayer resource than you might think.
And, she says, they’re not about politics.
A Group Effort
Rosenblum's actions in Oregon are in line with fellow Democratic attorneys general across the country who have turned to the courts — often as a group — to thwart the president's agenda.
She's in her second term as Oregon's top lawyer. In taking on the Trump administration's agenda, Rosenblum is in many ways following through on a promise she made when she was sworn in the second time.
“All of us, as Oregonians, have certain beliefs, values and practices that we take for granted. They define who we are as a people and who we are as a state,” Rosenblum said in public remarks following her oath of office. “The rhetoric of the recent election suggests some of those values may come under attack.”
Rosenblum said the agency’s role will be a legal one, not a political one.
“Your state Department of Justice will do everything it can within the limits set out in our state and federal constitution to protect those beliefs and values and practices,” she said in January 2017.
Today, it’s her job to determine which lawsuits the state should sign onto and whether any particular case is a good use of taxpayer money.
“At the moment we’ve put, relatively speaking, very little into these lawsuits,” Rosenblum said.
Compared to states such as California, New York and even Washington — which have all aggressively led legal efforts against the Trump administration — Oregon is a small player in the slew of courtroom skirmishes between states and the federal government.
“If you look at the budget of the (Oregon) Department of Justice, it’s well over $500 million, and the amount we’ve put into these lawsuits is well under $1 million at this point,” she said. “A lot of bang for the buck so far.”
By comparison, Washington has filed or participated in 26 lawsuits targeting the Trump administration. The state has taken the lead on eight of those cases and, as of January, had spent more than $12 million. The money came from proceeds Washington won in other legal victories, according to the attorney general’s office.
‘Nothing To Do With Politics’
Before signing onto a lawsuit, Rosenblum said she considers if the law or policy she’s challenging presents harm to the state’s residents and whether Oregon can establish that in court. She said she also weighs whether her staff has the necessary expertise to participate. That’s important because the state is spending less money by doing all the lawsuits in house, rather than to hiring an outside law firm to represent its interests.
One factor Rosenblum said she’s not considering: partisanship.
“It has nothing to do with politics,” she said.
“It isn’t about Mr. Trump,” Rosenblum added. “It isn’t about Republican vs. Democrat. It’s about whether there’s been a violation of the rule of law.”
But in some ways, it is.
How many of the lawsuits Oregon has joined include Republican attorneys general?
“Probably none,” Rosenblum said.
“I don’t think the Republican AG’s have brought lawsuits against Trump to my knowledge,” she said. “I mean, they may have, but I doubt it.”
Under President Obama, Oregon sued the executive branch twice in eight years, according to the attorney general’s office and federal court records.
Rosenblum said what Democrats are doing now with Trump is something they learned from Republicans under the Obama administration.
“To a degree, some of us have taken a page from that playbook in order to take advantage of some of the same types of successes that were had during the Obama years,” she said. “While it’s not political, there’s definitely an opportunity here to learn from our Republican colleagues how to take advantage of the best ways to use the judicial system to the benefit of our most vulnerable in our communities. I’m not sure they were doing that, but that’s what we’re doing.”
Rosenblum said the role of the federal government has shifted dramatically under the Trump administration, leaving what she calls vulnerable people as well as the environment unprotected. Just this week, Rosenblum was among 21 attorneys general who signed a letter demanding an end of the administration's new family separation policy for people who have entered the country without permission.
“Honestly, it’s just a whole new day when the federal government is rolling back on the kinds of protections that we have come to expect and reply upon,” Rosenblum said. “We need to take state action so that we can fill in those voids and those gaps and those roll backs.”
Hawaii vs. Trump
In March 2017, Rosenblum was at a conference in Hawaii when the first version of the Trump administration’s travel ban rolled out.
Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin challenged the administration and won.
“I was in the courtroom when the case was argued,” she said. “It was amazing.”
Rosenblum had been working on the case through a companion lawsuit with Washington. The Hawaii case is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court; Oregon has filed a friend of the court brief in opposition to the administration's travel ban.
“Now we’re waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court decision, but you know I feel like we won that case already, because there have been three modifications of the original travel ban,” Rosenblum said. “It’s still a terrible thing, but it’s frankly, as the president himself said, quite watered down. And guess why?”
Rosenblum said Oregon may sign onto more lawsuits in the coming year. She notes that, from her perspective, the lawsuits Oregon has filed or joined are winning, at least in the initial stages.
List Of Lawsuits
Here is a list of most of the lawsuits Oregon has signed onto since President Trump took office:
- State v. USA (Reproductive Rights)
- Washington v. Trump (Immigration)
- New York v. Trump (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals - DACA)
- Sanctuary Jurisdictions (Sanctuary Jurisdictions)
- State v. Trump (Challenge to religious freedom executive order rolling back contraceptive coverage mandate)
- California v. Trump (Affordable Care Act)
- Mass. et al v. USDHS et al (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals - DACA)
- Texas et al v. USA et al (Affordable Care Act)
- Vidal, Martin v. Kathy Baran (DACA)
- USDOJ Letter regarding Oregon's compliance with 8 U.S.C. § 1373 (Sanctuary Jurisdictions)
- Comments to Proposed Rule Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care (Health Care)
- Potential Action by New York and Other States Against the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 Limitations on Deduction for State and Local Taxes, PL No. 115-97 (Taxes)
- Potential action by Oregon, Washington and California re Medicaid assignment issue for union dues (Union dues)
- New York v. Dept. of Commerce (Census)
Source: Oregon Attorney General’s Office