California attorney general on DACA: 'We are ready to sue.'
California has filed a double-digit number of lawsuits against the Trump administration since January.
The latest came last week, when state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat and longtime congressman from Los Angeles, led a coalition of attorneys general from red and blue states in suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over what they called its “failure” to enforce the Clean Air Act.
In some cases, California is leading the legal battle, taking on the Trump administration on immigration, health care and the environment. In others, it has joined other states such as Washington – the first to sue the Trump administration when President Donald Trump penned his first major executive order banning travel to the United States from Muslim-majority countries.
The lawsuits – 22 of them in 17 different subject areas – are a window into California’s legal strategy in taking on Trump. Becerra argues in many of them that California will suffer disproportionate harm as a result of federal moves to crack down on undocumented immigrants, undo Obamacare and roll back environmental regulations. The state is home to more than 10 million immigrants, it is seen as the most successful in implementing the Affordable Care Act, and Brown has sought to make the state’s climate change policies a model for the nation.
Here’s a rundown:
The suit: California in March joined the state of Washington in suing President Donald Trump and his administration over his executive order barring entry to the United States by refugees from Muslim-majority countries. The state argues the executive decision represents an unconstitutional attack that discriminates against citizens based on their religion. It says the travel ban violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, designed to prohibit any government action that unduly favors one religion over another, and would undermine the state’s interest in “remaining a welcoming place for immigrants and refugees.” California has already suffered harm as a result of the executive orders, the suit says, and will continue to suffer harm in the form of tax revenue losses and inability to recruit talent for universities, hospitals, technology jobs and other industries.
What California says: “California has an interest, as evidenced by its constitution and state law, in prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion or national origin.”
The latest: Trump’s actions now bar entry to the U.S. from eight countries: Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea and Venezuela, though prohibitions on travel vary by country. The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week permitted the travel ban – the third version of Trump’s first executive order – to remain in effect as legal challenges continue, including California’s. The ruling lets the government deny citizens of the countries included in the ban permanent or temporary stay in the U.S. An estimated 150 million people are affected – the majority of whom are Muslim, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Trump has argued that the ban is meant to “detect would-be terrorists from receiving visas.”
The suit: California on Sept. 11 led Maine, Maryland and Minnesota in filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security over Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The state argues that eliminating DACA violates the Fifth Amendment by “substantially altering” the Department of Homeland Security’s “prior assurances” that under the Obama administration granted 800,000 undocumented immigrants temporary permission to remain in the U.S. The lawsuit also alleges the administration’s action violates due process protections of DACA applicants, and the manner in which Trump ended the program violates federal law.
What California says: “This program has allowed nearly 800,000 young people (including over 220,000 Californians) who have come of age in the United States – many of whom have known no other home – to come out of the shadows and study and work here without fear of deportation.”
The latest: Trump has called on Congress to come up with a legislative fix for DACA, set to expire in March 2018. Congressional Democrats have pushed for passage of the Dream Act, which would create a path to citizenship for recipients, known as “dreamers.” The debate is part of negotiations over spending to keep the government open, as Republicans and Democrats try to reach a deal by year’s end.
The suit: Becerra, joined by the California Coastal Commission, filed suit Sept. 20 against the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and border Protection to prevent construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall in San Diego and Imperial counties. In the lawsuit, California argues the Trump administration violated the U.S. Constitution and did not comply with federal and state environmental laws, and that Trump acted outside his authority in pursuing his signature immigration-enforcement proposal, relying on a federal statute that does not authorize the wall.
What California says: “The people have a concrete...interest in protecting the state of California’s territory and its proprietary interests from both direct harm and from spill-over effects resulting from action on federal land.”
The latest: Trump and officials in his administration have called for expedited construction of Southern California border wall prototypes. Some prototypes are already being tested. A hearing is set for Feb. 9 in federal court for the Southern District of California.
The suit: California filed suit on Aug. 14 to prevent the federal government from withholding public safety grants from cities and counties that do not expend public resources on immigration enforcement. It argues it is an “unconstitutional attempt” to force state law enforcement agencies to “engage in federal immigration enforcement.” The move was prompted by a U.S. Justice Department directive issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling on law enforcement agencies to cooperate with the federal government as it sought to enforce immigration law. The state receives $28 million per year in public safety grants for crime prevention, drug treatment, mental health care and more.
What California says: “This is pure intimidation intended to force our law enforcement into changing the policies and practices that they have determined promote public safety,” Becerra said in a statement.
The latest: A federal court hearing is set for Dec. 13 in San Francisco.
The suit: California in October joined a coalition of states led by Massachusetts in a lawsuit seeking access documents detailing the Trump administration’s federal immigration practices. In the complaint, naming the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Becerra and the other attorneys general seek records on federal immigration enforcement activities since Trump took office, including the DACA program, immigration holds and arrests and detentions at specific locations.
What California says: “As chief law enforcement officers of their respective states, responsible for protecting the safety, welfare and civil rights of their residents, the attorneys general...have a compelling and immediate need for the information requested.”
The latest: The lawsuit is pending in federal court in Massachusetts.
The suit: California on Nov. 8 filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit, brought by Equality California, challenging Trump’s Aug. 25 directive that seeks to ban transgender people from joining the military. The president said the action, a reversal from Obama administration policy, was an effort to minimize “tremendous medical costs and disruption.” California was given permission Nov. 16 to join as a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, brought by transgender service members and transgender people seeking to enlist. Becerra called Trump’s move, announced in a tweet, a “patently discriminatory federal policy.”
What California says: “If left unchallenged, the transgender military ban would impede the California National Guard’s ability to recruit and retain members to protect the state’s natural resources in times of need, force California to violate its anti-discrimination laws and discriminate against its own residents...”
The latest: Federal judges have halted the proposed ban.
The suit: California is challenging the legality of a Trump administration rule that allows employers to deny women insurance coverage for birth control based on religious or moral objections. Becerra argues that birth control is a “federally entitled benefit” under the Affordable Care Act. He called it an unconstitutional attack on the First Amendment because it lets employers use religious beliefs as a right to discriminate, and a violation of the Fifth Amendment by specifically targeting women and denying them their rights to equal protection under the law.
What California says: “Under this new regime...millions of women in California may be left without access to contraceptives and counseling and the state will be shouldering that additional fiscal and administrative burden as women seek access for this coverage through state-funded programs.”
The latest: The rule took effect immediately. California is seeking to overturn it. A hearing is set for Dec. 12 in federal court in the Northern District of California.
The suits: California moved on May 18 to intervene in a federal lawsuit that it says could “explode” the Affordable Care Act. The lawsuit, filed by House Republicans under the Obama administration, is an attempt to end cost-sharing subsidies that help offset health care premiums and other out-of-pocket costs. Trump has signaled that his administration will not defend the federal subsidy payments under Obamacare, so California and New York filed motions to step in and take on the federal fight. In October, Becerra went further, leading a coalition of other attorneys general in a lawsuit to block the president’s plan to end federal subsidy payments.
What California says: “Cost-sharing subsidies make insurance more affordable for low- and middle-income Americans by reducing out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles, co-pays and similar expenses.”
The latest: The Trump administration is moving forward with plans to rewrite regulations ending cost-sharing subsidy payments as Republicans continue their efforts to repeal Obamacare.
The suits: California joined 17 other states and the District of Columbia in suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in July for rescinding Obama-era protections that would have allowed students at for-profit colleges to petition for loan forgiveness if the college “misled them or engaged in other misconduct in violation” of other laws, according to the Department of Education. DeVos argued that the policy offered student loan borrowers “free money.” The lawsuit comes more than a year after former California Attorney General Kamala Harris, now in the U.S. Senate, sued Corinthian Colleges claiming it defrauded students, winning a $1.1 billion judgment from Corinthian Colleges. In a separate case, California was also one of 18 Democratic states to file suit against DeVos and the Department of Education to protect an Obama-era education rule that required for-profit colleges to prepare students for “gainful employment in a recognized occupation.”
What California says: “The rule was designed to ensure that students are lied to and mistreated by their school get the relief they are owed, and that schools that harm students are held responsible for their behavior.”
The latest: The Obama administration regulations were set to take effect July 1. Lawsuits are pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The suit: After sending a federal Freedom of Information Act request in April to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requesting documents on the agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, Becerra sued. He’d requested information that could detail possible conflicts of interest and ethical violations, but the agency did not respond within the legally required 20 days. In his previous post as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt had filed more than a dozen legal actions against the agency he is overseeing. He’d sought to halt Obama-era environmental regulations.
What California says: “While serving as Oklahoma attorney general, Mr. Pruitt filed numerous lawsuits against EPA...actions asking courts to strike down EPA’s rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil fuel power plants...limiting methane and volatile organic compound pollution from new, modified and reconstructed sources in the oil and gas sector...and limiting hazardous air pollutants emitted from coal- and oil-fired power plants.”
The latest: Pruitt is still in charge of the EPA. The agency has not responded to California’s public records request. California’s lawsuit is pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The suit: The Trump administration moved quickly to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations as too onerous for business, prompting an onslaught of legal reactions. Becerra in July filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for delaying implementation of a rule regulating the practice of methane “flaring,” or the burning of natural gas that isn’t processed or sold. The so-called “waste prevention rule,” finalized by the Bureau of Land Management last November and put into place in January of this year, was aimed at preventing oil and natural gas producers from releasing the methane on federal and tribal lands.
What California says: “The Waste Prevention Rule provides a much-needed update of 38-year-old regulations governing the release of natural gas from new and existing oil and gas operations on federal and Indian lands, and clarifies when gas lost through venting, flaring or leaks is subject to royalties.”
The latest: The Trump administration issued a notice indicating it would permanently postpone the rule, but the decision was struck down in October after California filed suit. Federal agencies have appealed as the Trump administration seeks to finalize a rule to delay compliance deadlines. California will argue in defense of the rule, according to Becerra’s office.
The suit: Becerra is fighting to reinstate the moratorium on coal leasing on public lands. Joined by attorneys general from New Mexico, New York and Washington, he filed a lawsuit in early May challenging a March decision by the Trump administration to restart federal coal leasing on public land without completing an environmental review of the program. The leasing program was previously blocked by Obama, pending environmental review. Becerra cited climate change risks and environmental hazards in the lawsuit.
What California says: “Millions of tons of coal have been transported through California in open rail cars to ports in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Stockton and Richmond, areas that are surrounded by low-income and minority communities that are already disproportionately impacted by environmental pollution.”
The latest: The suit is pending in federal court in Montana.
The suits: California joined New York and other states in August to file a lawsuit against Trump’s EPA for not designating air quality standards across the nation, as required under the Clean Air Act. The standards were created to inform the public about the level of pollutants in the atmosphere and are considered an important measure in assessing public health problems and air quality. A second lawsuit, led by California and joined by 14 other attorneys general, was filed Thursday. California, joined by deep-blue states like New York and Republican-led states like Iowa, filed suit against the EPA for what it called a “failure” to designate parts of the country as unhealthy due to high levels of smog. The Clean Air Act mandates the disclosure, and requires areas to take steps to improve air quality.
What California says: “EPA has failed to issue a designation for the San Francisco Bay Area. ...The lack of a...designation for the Bay Area undermines the ability of state and local air regulators to improve the region’s air quality, by depriving them of crucial regulatory tools that are not readily available otherwise.”
The latest: The Trump administration has not yet designated air quality measures by region. The lawsuits are pending.
The suit: A lawsuit filed in late April by California and New Mexico is aimed at making the Department of the Interior enforce rules requiring companies to pay royalties on oil, gas and coal extracted from taxpayer-owned public lands. The lawsuit alleges that the rule, which went into effect on Jan. 1, was driven in part by U.S. coal industry practices of artificially depressing coal prices then selling to their own subsidiaries, requiring lower royalty payments. Becerra alleges that it was postponed after it had already gone into effect.
What California says: “The rule responded to dramatic changes that have taken place in domestic energy markets... An agency cannot postpone the effective date of a rule when that effective date has already come and gone.”
The latest: The Department of the Interior has repealed the rule, while the lawsuits from California and New Mexico are pending.
The suit: California, joined by 10 other states including New York and Massachusetts, filed a lawsuit in June against the Department of Energy under Trump for failing to publish new energy efficiency standards for home industrial-scale appliances including portable air conditioners, air compressors, walk-in coolers and freezers and more. The lawsuit alleges new standards will save energy and reduce carbon emissions in the atmosphere – to the equivalent of taking more than 5 million cars off the road each year. California has the strongest greenhouse gas reduction targets in the country.
What California says: “In addition to the state’s climate-related laws that prioritize energy efficiency for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency is a key component to helping California manage an aging energy infrastructure and meeting the state’s growing electricity needs.”
The latest: The Department of the Energy is fighting some of the new regulations in court and has let others go into effect.
The suits: Becerra, with four other attorneys general, filed suit in September over the Trump administration’s decision to delay a federal fuel efficiency rule meant to steer automakers into making more fuel-efficient vehicles. Separately, Becerra and the state Air Resources Board in March moved to intervene in a lawsuit brought by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers against the EPA. The lawsuit from the alliance, an industry lobbying organization representing 12 of the largest car manufacturers including Ford Motor Company, General Motors and Subaru of America, Inc., is an attempt at weakening vehicle emissions standards. In a letter to EPA’s Pruitt, Gov. Jerry Brown blasted the lawsuit, prompted by the Trump administration, which has sought to roll back greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and trucks. In the letter, Brown called the action a “unconscionable gift to polluters. Once again, you’ve put the interests of Big Oil ahead of clean air and politics ahead of science.”
What California says: “California seeks to intervene because the greenhouse gas emission reductions that will be achieved through the light-duty vehicle standards are an important part of broader efforts to reduce these harmful, climate-altering emissions.”
The latest: The suits are pending.
The suits: The Trump administration in September reversed a decision to delay the implementation of a federal rule requiring the tracking and measuring of greenhouse gas emissions on roadways. Becerra had filed a lawsuit to force the federal government to implement the rule.
Another lawsuit brought by California was also settled after the Trump administration implemented environmental rules aimed at making ceiling fans more efficient.