House Set to Approve Broad New Powers for Attorney General

February 16, 2017

The first items on the agenda for the Maryland House of Delegates Monday are House and Senate resolutions that will give Attorney General Brian Frosh sole discretion to sue the Trump administration to protect the “state’s interest as well as the health and welfare of Maryland residents.”

The House Rules Committee Friday afternoon voted to report favorably on both resolutions. The Maryland Defense Act of 2017, SJ5, passed the Senate 29-17 Friday morning, after a brief but contentious fight by Senate Republicans to delay the measure.

“Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last couple of weeks the administration in Washington has taken action that I think is impulsive [and] erratic,” Frosh told the House committee. “If you look at the [Muslim ban] by itself I think it demonstrates to you the need for checks and balances.”

The resolution will give Frosh authority that 41 other state attorneys general have under common law.

Democratic leaders in Annapolis have voiced worries in recent weeks that Trump’s cabinet picks and executive orders have far reaching implications for Maryland’s economy and environment.

The resolution renders Gov. Larry Hogan powerless to direct the state’s top lawyer in litigation against the federal government as he can now.

Concerned about ISIS and foreign brain drain

In addition to citing constitutional issues with Trump’s  “Muslim ban,” Frosh spoke in broader terms about America’s image and vulnerability in the world under a Trump administration. He told the House committee that the Muslim ban not only violated the Immigration and Nationality Act, it was “counterproductive” and “ill-advised” in battling ISIS.

“It makes us less safe, not more safe,” Frosh said. “It gives propaganda opportunities to ISIS, it undermines our allies [and] it makes us less competitive.”

“The United States has been the destination for everybody who wanted to achieve knowledge and to achieve economic success, and we have been a ‘brain drain’ from countries around the world,” he said,

He said over half of the biomedical researches working in the U.S. are foreign born.

“If we put up a ‘not welcome’ sign it reverses that brain drain,” he said.

Frosh says resolution does Hogan a favor

At the hearing, House Republican Leader Nic Kipke challenged Democrat Frosh’s political motivations behind the resolution. Kipke suggested that a slew of lawsuits against the Trump administration could undermine Hogan’s ability to “strike a deal with Republicans” to locate the new FBI headquarters in Maryland, secure federal funds for the Howard Street Tunnel, protect the state’s Medicare waiver and ensure 400,000 Marylanders continue to have access to the Affordable Care Act, among other concerns.

“How can [the governor] be in a strengthened position to secure many of the things people…are demanding he do?” asked Kipke.

Frosh responded that the resolution actually strengthens Hogan’s position by taking him out of the loop.

“You can make the argument that this gives the governor a stronger hand,” Frosh said. “He doesn’t have to take the blame for the attorney general suing the federal government.”

Friday’s vote came a day after nine of the Senate’s 14 Republicans left the chamber in protest when the Democratic majority denied their request to postpone the vote for 24 hours.

By Daniel Menefee
For Maryland Reporter