The Dem AGs in 2020: Fighting for the People
As 2020 comes to a close, here’s a quick look at why the Democratic AGs earned the nickname the “muscle of the resistance” and how the Dem AG coalition came together to protect our democracy and fight for families and communities:
1. DEFENDING DEMOCRACY
In the lead up to the 2020 election, Democratic Attorneys General used every legal tool available to protect access to the ballot box.
- One of the most alarming attacks on the elections came from Trump’s Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and his efforts to delay and slow down the postal service in advance of an election with historic levels of voting-by-mail. Through three separate coalitions, Democratic AGs led by Washington AG Bob Ferguson, Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro, and New York AG Tish James filed lawsuits to stop this harmful action that was delaying medication delivery, ballot delivery, and other essential mail. Ahead of the election, federal judges ruled in favor of the Dem AG coalitions in all three cases. Read more about the important work done by Dem AGs to protect the country’s mail system here.
- Dem AGs stepped up to push back on several states attempting to restrict voting rights and challenge vote-by-mail protocols. District of Columbia AG Karl Racine led the amici brief efforts to protect voting rights, taking the lead on more than 10 multistate briefs across seven states including Florida, Mississippi, and South Carolina to protect people’s constitutional right to vote. Dem AGs like North Carolina AG Josh Stein and Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro also took leadership roles in making it clear that no one should vote twice following Trump’s outlandish remarks at rallies encouraging supporters to vote more than once.
Post election, Dem AGs continued to swat down frivolous attempts by Trump, Republican AGs, and GOP leaders to overturn the electoral results in a number of key battleground states. This included Dem AGs in battleground states like Wisconsin AG Josh Kaul taking action to protect the results of the election. Read more about the Dem AGs efforts this year to protect the people’s right to vote and the results of the election here.
2. PROTECTING REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS
In perhaps one of the biggest cases before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding reproductive rights and access to abortion, Democratic Attorneys General — led by New York AG Tish James — put support behind June Medical Services, a clinic at risk of being shutdown in Louisiana. Following the Supreme Court decision, DAGA Co-Chairs Massachusetts AG Maura Healey and Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum said, the “decision is a victory for the rule of law. But the underlying case itself should sound the alarm…Extremists will continue their barrage of attacks on reproductive rights and we stand ready to fight back. This is why we are committed to electing leaders up and down the ballot, including Democratic Attorneys General, who will fight to protect reproductive rights.”
Access to abortion and reproductive health care came under near constant attack — especially as COVID-19 protections went into effect. In Texas, Texas AG Ken Paxton supported a near total ban on reproductive care as COVID hit the state. DAGA and Democratic AGs called him out for his harmful and illegal action.
New York AG Tish James championed reproductive rights this year. In the first six months of 2020 alone, AG James took more than 12 actions to protect people’s right to abortion and reproductive rights. Read more about her leadership here. California AG Xavier Beccera also played an important role in the space by continuing to protect California’s law, which requires health plans in the state to offer abortion coverage.
3. CALLING FOR POLICE REFORM
As a nation, we grieve for George Floyd and are outraged by the racial injustice and police brutality that his death — and the deaths of so many other black Americans — represents. As the People’s Lawyers across the country, Democratic Attorneys General hear the people speaking and demanding change and accountability. While their criminal justice powers might vary from state to state, Democratic AGs stand united in their commitment to fight for justice and equality to the fullest extent. Dem AGs continue to listen to the Black community, meet with community leaders, and take proactive measures to address police brutality, pursue reform, close the racial inequity gap, and rebuild trust in leadership.
Dem AGs like Nevada AG Aaron Ford, New Jersey AG Gurbir Gewal, and New York AG Tish James led multiple conversations with local law enforcement to advocate and educate. Dem AGs like Michigan AG Dana Nessel, Iowa AG Tom Miller, and Nevada AG Aaron Ford worked with state lawmakers and their office to produce many key reforms to improve policing in America. Dem AGs like Colorado AG Phil Weiser and Minnesota AG Keith Ellison were tasked to lead investigations and oversee the prosecutions of officers charged with the murder of George Floyd and Elijah McClain. And Rhode Island AG Peter Neronha created a new Civil Rights Investigations unit within the office to better serve the people of Rhode Island. Read more about AG Grewal’s historic actions in The Atlantic here.
4. DEFENDING DREAMERS
Led by California AG Xavier Becerra and New York AG Tish James, a Democratic Attorney General coalition successfully defended the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program at the U.S. Supreme Court. At the time, AG Becerra said, “Today, justice prevailed for every Dreamer who has worked hard to help build our country — our neighbors, teachers, doctors, and first responders. Today, America told the Dreamers that this is their home.” AG James said, “Today’s decision reaffirms that there is no question that home is here for more than 700,000 Dreamers across the country.” Given the early action by AG Becerra and the Democratic AG coalition, more than 712,000 DACA recipients were able to renew their DACA status as Dem AGs fought on their behalf to eventually win a successful decision at the U.S. Supreme Court this summer.
5. SAVING SNAP (Food Access)
When the Trump administration sought to restrict access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for more than 700,000 people, Democratic Attorneys General fought back. In October, District of Columbia AG Karl Racine led a coalition of 20 Democratic AGs in successfully blocking Trump to protect access to affordable food during a critical moment in our nation’s COVID response. AG Racine at the time said, “While the pandemic continues to drive millions of Americans into unemployment — including thousands of District residents — the Trump administration is focused on cutting vital food assistance rather than helping those in greatest need.” Vermont AG TJ Donovan said, “This is a win for Americans and a win for Vermonters. I am proud to stand with my fellow Democratic AGs on this issue.” Read more about this critical victory in The Washington Post here.
6. DEFENDING ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE
For the last two plus years, all Democratic Attorneys General, led by California AG Xavier Becerra, have thrown their support behind defending the Affordable Care Act from the Republican Attorneys General and Trump administration-led sabotage. In March, DAGA celebrated the 10 year anniversary of the ACA becoming law — even as the future of the ACA remained caught in court.
Even as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on, Republicans doubled down on their effort to take health care away from millions, end protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and reverse medicaid expansion across the country. DAGA called them out for their harmful actions repeatedly.
And just one week after the election, AG Becerra and the Democratic AG coalition argued before the Supreme Court to defend the ACA. Dem AGs are the last line of defense — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic — in protecting access to affordable health care for 20 million people and protections for 135+ million people who have a pre-existing condition.
7. STOPPING BETSY DEVOS (AGAIN & AGAIN)
While Democratic Attorneys General regularly thwart Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on issues like protecting student loan borrowers and taking on for-profit colleges, one of the biggest victories this year was tied to the CARES Act funding for public schools. A coalition of Democratic AGs led by Michigan AG Dana Nessel and California AG Xavier Becerra successfully stopped Secretary DeVos from diverting CARES Act funding away from public schools and towards private schools. AG Nessel said, “Unfortunately, this most recent action by Secretary DeVos is really just another example in a long history of an administration that uses any and every opportunity available to tip the scales in favor of private schools at the great expense of our public schools.”
8. TAKING ON SPECIAL INTERESTS: NRA, Emoluments, Sacklers, Catholic Church and more
Throughout the year Democratic Attorneys General took on some of the biggest special interests across the country.
- New York AG Tish James announced a lawsuit against the National Rifle Association (NRA) to dissolve the organization after a more than year long investigation into the company’s leadership and finances. AG James said, “The NRA’s influence has been so powerful that the organization went unchecked for decades while top executives funneled millions into their own pockets.” Read more about her work here.
- Democratic AGs continued to hold opioid manufacturers and the Sackler family accountable for their role in the opioid epidemic that continues to ravage families and communities across the country. In fact, DAGA Co-Chair Massachusetts AG Maura Healey continued to put pressure on the family for their involvement in the crisis and continued attempts to escape accountability.
- Dem AGs continued their important work to hold the Catholic Church accountable. While the Trump administration’s probe went “quiet,” Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro noted that his work “in the office of Attorney General continues.”
- District of Columbia AG Karl Racine and Maryland AG Brian Frosh continued to make progress on their lawsuit to hold President Trump accountable to the Emoluments Clause in the U.S. Constitution as President Trump continues to personally profit off the Office of the President.
- Connecticut AG William Tong continued to hold drug manufacturers accountable for price fixing and antitrust practices that impact the price of generic drugs for millions of Americans.
- New Mexico AG Hector Balderas has been working to hold Google accountable when it comes to children’s privacy.
9. BATTLING THE COVID-19 CRISIS
As the pandemic continues, Democratic Attorneys General continue to prioritize protecting the people in their states. From demanding resources and equipment for first responders and front line workers to calling for internet access for all to fighting price gouging and defending mask mandates, Democratic AGs were the tip of the spear in helping the American people stay safe. Dem AGs like Maine AG Aaron Frey also supported an extension of CARES Act funding to bring much needed relief to millions of people. Read about all their actions in the COVID-19 updates here.
Watch Dem AGs from around the country thank first responders and essential workers for all they do
10. PROTECTING THE PLANET & COMBATING THE CLIMATE CRISIS
Democratic Attorneys General continued to lead the charge in protecting the planet and combating the climate crisis. This year, California AG Xavier Becerra led 23 Democratic AGs in opposing the Trump administration’s attempt to roll back the clean car standards set in place to reduce emissions. Washington AG Bob Ferguson and DAGA Co-Chair Massachusetts AG Maura Healey led 15 Dem AGs in a lawsuit to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas drilling. And Dem AGs continue to be the most effective legal defenders of climate and the environment. Over the course of the Trump Administration, Dem AGs have taken more than 300 major actions on energy and environment seeking to protect the Obama-Biden climate legacy. Read more here. See more Dem AG actions here.
11. ANTI-DISCRIMINATION EFFORTS
Democratic Attorneys General fight for equal protection under the law for all individuals. In 2020, Dem AGs fought for equality and pushed back against attempts to discriminate.
- Hawaii AG Clare Connors and New York AG Tish James led a coalition of Democratic AGs in an amicus brief in the case Hecox v Little, a challenge to Idaho’s law that categorically bars transgender women and girls from participating on women’s sports teams. The brief explains that the experience of states administering inclusive policies contradicts the assumption underlying Idaho’s law — that allowing transgender women and girls to participate in sports consistent with their gender identity unfairly denies opportunities to non-transgender students. The brief also argues that Idaho’s law stigmatizes transgender students, furthers no legitimate governmental interest, and violates equal protection under any level of scrutiny.
- DAGA Co-Chair Nevada AG Aaron Ford, Illinois AG Kwame Raoul and Virginia AG Mark Herring are leading the fight in court to see the Equal Rights Amendment ratified and adopt the measure in the Constitution. “After generations of effort, the women of this country are entitled to their rightful place in the Constitution. This Court should compel the Archivist to carry out his statutory duty of recognizing the complete and final adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment,” the lawsuit says.