Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
When George W. Bush was in the White House, Democratic state attorneys general attempted to check his administration's power. State attorneys general, for example, played a key role in winning the Supreme Court ruling that designated carbon dioxide as a pollutant.
Now that a Democrat is in the White House, Republican attorneys generals are trying to play the exact same role. One example: health care. Here's Reuters:
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Less than 24 hours after the House of Representatives gave final approval to a sweeping overhaul of healthcare, attorneys general from several states on Monday said they will sue to block the plan on constitutional grounds.
Republican attorneys general in 11 states warned that lawsuits will be filed to stop the federal government overstepping its constitutional powers and usurping states' sovereignty.
Another interesting example is greenhouse gas regulation. Democratic attorneys general pushed for CO2 emissions to be regulated during the Bush years, but now Republican attorneys general are pushing for CO2 not to be regulated by the EPA in the Obama years.
From that, it would be easy to conclude that when a Republican is president, Republicans are content and Democratic attorneys general are the activists. When a Democrat is president, the roles are reserved.
While I think there's something to that cyclical idea, the current activism of Republicans attorneys general strikes me as somewhat new. In the relatively brief period that attorneys general have been national political players, most of the biggest action has focused on progressive causes: taking on the tobacco companies, taking on Wall Street, taking on the Bush administration.
In that context, Republican AGs may be pursuing a new model for conservative activism, but one that's likely be reproduced whenever there's a Democratic administration in Washington.
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