New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned Monday night, stepping down from office hours after he was accused of physically abusing four women in an article published by the New Yorker.
The women had said Schneiderman, the top law enforcement official in New York state and a prominent opponent of President Trump, choked and repeatedly slapped them. In announcing his resignation, Schneiderman said he continued to “strongly contest” the allegations but felt he had to leave office.
The bolt from out of the blue stunned even hard-bitten New York political-watchers. Schneiderman was a Democratic star, a major figure in the anti-Trump resistance and a defender of women’s rights. (“Schneiderman, a Democrat who was first elected in 2010 and was up for a potential third term later this year, has been an outspoken advocate for women. His office filed a civil rights lawsuit in February against the movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of repeated assaults and attacks on women, as well as against his brother and the Weinstein Company. In March, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) directed Schneiderman to review how the Manhattan district attorney handled a sexual assault allegation against Weinstein.”) As a state senator, he championed legislation to classify strangulation as a violent crime, a move hailed by anti-domestic-abuse advocates and victims.
As horrifying as the allegations against Schneiderman are, the swiftness with which Democrats (including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand) called for him to resign suggests that the party has internalized the lessons of the #MeToo movement. Unlike White House aide Rob Porter, whom the White House protected until actual photos surfaced of one of his ex-wives who alleged abuse, Schneiderman found no protection in Democratic ranks. Allegations by multiple women against powerful men are no longer greeted with skepticism publicly; at least among Democrats there is virtually no tolerance for domestic violence and/or sexual abuse. The speed with which the episode went from a magazine story to resignation of arguably the most powerful state attorney general in the country speaks to the sea change in how sexual abuse and harassment allegations are treated, at least when the president of the United States is not involved.
Much has been made of Schneiderman’s role in Trump-related matters. He forced Trump to fork over a $25 million settlement in the Trump University case and to shutter his foundation after The Post’s David A. Fahrenthold revealed improper spending. Schneiderman was also at the forefront of suits against the administration on everything from immigration to the environment to protecting health-care subsidies to challenging a census question on citizenship. He has been cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III (e.g. on the Paul Manafort probe), even proposing a change in state law making it possible to prosecute Trump figures under state law even if Trump pardons them for federal crimes.
Democrats panicky about the loss of a legal lion to go after Trump should take a deep breath. The suits against the administration on policy matters will continue, in many cases joined by similarly aggressive attorneys general from other states. New York is a deep-blue state, with a legislature in which Democrats dominate in the state assembly and hold a narrow one-vote majority in the state Senate. Whoever replaces Schneiderman temporarily will in all likelihood pursue many of the strategies he employed against Trump.
The state legislature will pick a temporary replacement; a new AG will then be elected in November. (“There are 213 seats in the state Legislature, meaning Schneiderman’s successor will need 107 votes from lawmakers. There are 104 Assembly Democrats in the chamber, according to Mike Whyland, a spokesman for Heastie. That’s by far the single-largest bloc of votes among the legislative conferences and almost a majority on its own.) Democratic voters (already enthusiastic about the chance to flip the U.S. House and/or Senate) will no doubt turn out in droves to pick someone willing to go toe-to-toe with Trump.
So certainly, Schneiderman’s legal acumen will be missed by anti-Trump forces. However, as we are learning in the Trump case at the Justice Department, the wheels of justice grind on as political appointees and electeds come and go, departed officials are replaced and institutional norms provide continuity and consistency. No single player in the justice system is irreplaceable — and none is above the law. That is the essence of the rule of law.