Maryland’s General Assembly on Wednesday approved blanket authorization for state Attorney General Brian E. Frosh to sue the federal government, illustrating the eagerness of Democratic legislative leaders to challenge the Trump administration over undocumented immigrants, refugees, health care and other issues.
The proposal passed quickly through the legislature over the past two weeks on party-line votes that exposed an increasingly bitter partisan divide in Annapolis.
It will take effect without the signature of Gov. Larry Hogan (R), whose spokeswoman accused Democrats of engaging in “Washington-style party politics” and “philosophizing over what might or might not happen in Washington, D.C. — instead of focusing on Maryland.”
The joint resolution, which can’t be vetoed by the governor, is one in a series of Democratic measures in response to Trump administration policies, including a bill that would set aside $3 million in the state budget for Frosh to protect Marylanders from “harmful” federal efforts.
Another measure, the Trust Act, would prohibit police and sheriff’s departments from complying with federal requests to hold undocumented immigrants; bar local authorities from arresting people for immigration purposes; and try to limit federal immigration officials’ authority to remove people from schools, hospitals or courthouses.
Republicans argued that the resolution allowing Frosh to sue was a politically motivated attempt to undermine the Trump administration and would give the attorney general virtually unchecked authority.
House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) called the measure “troubling” and described it as “an unprecedented reallocation of powers.”
Under current law, the attorney general must seek a green light from the legislature or the governor to take action against the federal government. In most other states, attorneys general can take legal action to protect the public interest as they see fit, legislative analysts said.
Democrats fast-tracked the resolution after President Trump issued executive orders to lay the groundwork to cut off federal funding to jurisdictions that do not comply with requests to detain undocumented immigrants and ban citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees from entering the United States.
The legislation received final approval in the House on Wednesday by a vote of 89 to 50, with all Republicans in the chamber voting against it. It passed a similarly divided Senate last week after Republicans attempted to delay the vote and then stormed out in protest when that request was denied.
“I cannot fathom why anybody who believes fundamentally in constitutional rights would not want our attorney general in court when necessary to protect them,” Del. Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery) said Tuesday.
Two weeks ago, Frosh asked Hogan for permission to sue the Trump administration over its travel ban, which federal courts elsewhere in the country have since put on hold. His office said the governor still has not provided a “yes” or “no” reply.
Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said the governor is waiting for Frosh to explain how the entry ban violates the Constitution and why Maryland should launch a case of its own when other states have already sued to stop Trump’s order.
She said the administration also concluded that Frosh had decided to pursue a different legal strategy after he joined 17 other attorneys general in filing a brief in support of anti-ban lawsuits by Washington state and Minnesota.
During the debate on Friday, House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) said the resolution expanding Frosh’s authority was merely “an extension of bottled-up feelings about our current political climate.”
He noted that the legislature didn’t act similarly in response to controversial Obama administration policies, such as conducting drone strikes that in some instances killed U.S. citizens; ending a pause on deportation of Haitians who entered the country illegally after a disastrous earthquake in that country; and seizing journalists’ phone records.
Luedtke countered that Kipke’s remarks were “an argument for why we should have done it years ago, and why we should still do it now.”
On Tuesday, Del. Robert L. Flanagan (R-Howard) offered an amendment to the proposal that would have barred the attorney general from taking legal actions against the federal government without approval from the governor or the legislature’s policy committee, which consists of leading lawmakers from the House and the Senate.
Democrats rejected the amendment, saying it would gut the resolution.