SAN DIEGO, CALIF. – The Los Angeles Times recently ran an article entitled, “California has sued the Trump administration 38 times. Here's a look at the legal challenges.” As a United States citizen and a resident of California, it occurred to me that I was paying the legal fees for both sides of the 38 different lawsuits. It also raised the question of whether my rights were being protected or abused for political purposes.
It almost goes without saying that California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, is a Democrat with higher political aspirations. He was appointed to office in January 2017 by Governor Jerry Brown to complete the term of former state Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is now a member of the United States Senate and rumored to be contemplating a potential presidential bid in 2020.
As the former chair of the House Democratic Caucus in California, Becerra had some political visibility, but not nearly what is being offered in his capacity of California’s attorney general. By aggressively pursuing litigation against the current administration (having filed 38 related suits in a year and a half), he has become a leading national figure in the “resistance” movement.
Of the 38 suits he’s filed against the administration, 21 involve environmental issues, nine involve immigration, three involve healthcare, three involve education, one involves rights of transgender individuals to serve in the military, and one involves net neutrality. It is reasonable to question whether these lawsuits represent the general interests of California residents sufficiently to offset their costs.
While that question is ultimately left to the voters, California has become somewhat of a political monopoly. The Democratic Party has established a super majority at the state level that has ruled California with an iron hand for decades. Higher level offices are almost conceded to Democratic candidates.
According to Political Data Inc., which compiles figures from California’s county election offices, the Democratic Party has approximately 8.44 million registered voters as compared to 4.77 million registered Republicans and under 1 million registered voters for all other parties combined. Lost in the mix are the 4.84 million voters who register as No Party Preference.
The numbers indicate that the majority of registered voters in the state are not Democrats (10.61 million to 8.44 million). However, it would require nearly every voter, who isn’t registered as a Democrat, to vote as a block to successfully impact any state or federal level race … other than in gerrymandered districts (but that’s another story).
As a result, the use of California taxes to litigate on behalf of the “resistance” may not reflect the best interests of the state’s residents as much as it reflects the best interests of the state’s dominant party. This is not meant to assert that the lawsuits do not have merit specific to the state, but rather to caution citizens that political influence may also play a role.
Meanwhile, try to guess how many lawsuits were filed by Attorney General Becerra’s predecessor, Kamala Harris, against the Obama administration (at least, prior to the president’s endorsement of her for the United States Senate).
Lawsuits of this nature capture national attention (win or lose), particularly during volatile political times. That translates into media coverage, increased name recognition, and the reinforcement of both parties’ positions on any given issue. It’s an “Us versus Them” mentality that attracts donations and rallies the parties’ respective bases to show up at the polls
The benefit to the parties should be obvious. The benefit to California’s taxpayers may be more difficult to establish particularly since they are paying both sides’ legal bills.
If the courts avoid the temptation to legislate from the bench, at best, a stay order or injunctive relief may be issued. This simply throws the issue back to the Executive Branch or Congress to rework their approach. Guess who pays for that process as well?
California’s appointed attorney general will win his first election to that office in November. That result is already cast in stone.
Then, he will continue to file lawsuits that keep California (and him) in the national limelight and reinforce his party’s interests. He’ll win a few and lose a few. Hopefully, the ones he wins will be relevant to the citizens of California who are footing the bill.
Photo retrieved from PolitiFact.com