The Maryland House of Delegates voted along party lines Wednesday to make it easier for the state attorney general to sue the federal government.
Current law requires Attorney General Brian Frosh to get the approval of the governor or General Assembly before moving forward with a lawsuit. The legislation passed Wednesday lets Frosh bypass that process to challenge federal policy in court without Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's agreement.
The state Senate approved the change last week. The legislation is a joint resolution, rather than a typical bill, so Hogan, who has voiced his opposition to the measure, can’t veto it.
Democrats say the move allows Frosh to protect Maryland residents against President Donald Trump’s policies, such as his embattled ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations. Frosh said last week that he asked Hogan on Feb. 1 to challenge the travel ban but never received an answer.
“Tell me how it upheld the Constitution of the United States when the federal government stuck a 5-year-old boy, a Maryland citizen, an American citizen, in unconstitutional detention and separated him from his family,” said Del. Eric Luedtke, a Democrat from Montgomery County. He was referring to a boy detained at the end of January at Dulles International Airport. The boy, who was later released, lives in Maryland with his Iranian mother, according to statements at the time by U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen.
But Republicans say residents’ rights can be protected without expanding the attorney general’s powers. They say the legislation is a political move that strips the governor of his right to approve the state’s legal battles.
“No one wants the federal government steamrolling Marylanders, steamrolling the Chesapeake Bay,” House Minority Leader Nic Kipke said during Wednesday’s debate after Democrats rattled off lists of potential risks the Trump administration poses. “Our governor would be first in line to defend the interests of Marylanders, I believe, through lawsuits of the federal government should the things that have been mentioned previously take place.”
On Wednesday afternoon, a House committee is scheduled to hear a related bill that would give Frosh’s office $1 million a year beginning in the fiscal year beginning in July 2018 to pay for additional staff to help bring lawsuits against the federal government.