“I don’t count. I don’t tally,” she told me during an interview after her appearance at a NARAL Pro-Choice America event on Thursday, when I asked how many ongoing suits Massachusetts currently has against the administration. “We just bring cases we need to bring.” She has filed dozens of cases on everything from “voting to the census to health care to immigration to the environment and . . . on women’s access to health care.”
State attorneys generals have always worked cooperatively in major litigation against private firms, as they are doing against pharmaceutical companies in the opioid crisis — and as they have done against the tobacco companies, lenders after the financial crisis and in all sorts of consumer protection cases. “What happened and what you saw after the 2016 election was the emergence of a group of AG’s," she explained. "It is highly unusual to find ourselves at a time having to take on the federal government, to stand up for the rule of law, protect democracy, protect people’s rights.”
“The courts have been allies in the fight to restrain Trump’s agenda," she said. "The courts have really been the place we’ve gone to toe the line on some of these illegal and unconstitutional actions.” She and the other attorneys general have been quite successful in bringing suits, usually with requests for preliminary injunctions. “It is critically important we had this branch to go to stop abuses by the executive branch,” she said. Multiple iterations of the Muslim travel ban and environmental regulations were stopped by states’ actions in court.
While it is “too soon” to tell the impact of Trump-appointed judges, the rate of confirmations and the spotty qualifications of some remain a long-term concerns. In this context, Healey credits the role of state courts, laws and constitutions that can retain rights and protections when the federal government rolls back.
On health care, Massachusetts and other states have multiple actions pending around the country seeking to preserve the Affordable Care Act and/or stop administration efforts to undermine or whittle away the protections in the law. On a more basic level, she finds the administration’s conduct on health care extraordinary. Healey explains, “The Republicans have tried to take away healthcare how many times? 97 times? 100 times? You saw the American people come forward to say, ‘Don’t take away our healthcare.’ " Nevertheless, the Trump administration continues court actions to obliterate the ACA and slash Medicaid. “What you see is Democratic AG’s stepping into the fore,” she said. Healey also said she hopes for “more sensible policy making” and an end to efforts to take away what they cannot take away through legislation.
Massachusetts has joined California and other states in seeking to maintain the waivers that California gets (and other states sign onto) to allow higher air-quality standards than the federal government requires. The feds now want that to end, and to reverse progress made in various states with the full cooperation of the auto companies. “It’s stupid policy. It’s stupid economically and it’s really morally reprehensible,” Healey says. She finds the administration’s response — suing the auto companies for cooperatively keeping air-quality standards high — a ridiculous use of resources.
I asked Healey about the scandal enveloping the White House and Justice Department. Healey says she finds it “very troubling, very disturbing and [I] think it should be a significant cause of concern for any American.” She reiterates that the attorney general is the people’s lawyer, not Trump’s personal lawyer and yet, time and again, it has been Trump’s personal interests that have prevailed. Healey says it is “incredibly concerning” that so many lawyers at Justice Department, the White House and elsewhere seem to have been involved or at least have been mute. “And it’s not just within the White House DOJ,” she said. “But look what’s happening in the Congress, too. Any number of those senators are lawyers themselves or have lawyers working for them and yet for them to continue to turn a blind eye to an administration that does not respect the rule of law. . . .”
Healey worries that corrupt conduct gets normalized. “I did it, so what?” seems to be the new defense, she observed. “We need a time out and a reset about what is right and what is wrong.” She fears we have gone “astray” and rather than adhere to our constitutional traditions we are “replicating authoritarian regimes.”
If Warren does win the presidency, it’s quite possible that Healey will occupy a prominent role, or perhaps try to run to replace Warren as senator. I asked Healey whether she thought Republican Gov. Charlie Baker would, in that event, have an obligation to appoint a Democrat on a temporary basis. For the first time during the interview, she replied briskly: “No comment.” For now, she’s a principal legal antagonist of the administration and an enthusiastic Warren supporter. Remember her name, however. I’m quite certain that Massachusetts attorney general will not be the highest office she holds.