Paul Nolette

Paul Nolette is assistant professor at Marquette University and is the author of Federalism on Trial: State Attorneys General and National Policymaking in Contemporary America.

Ambitious State AGs March On

A few days after Donald Trump’s inauguration on the opposite coast, Xavier Becerra was sworn in as California’s attorney general. Becerra, who had accepted Governor Brown’s offer to replace now-U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, was fresh from Capitol Hill himself, having served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1993 and rising through the ranks of the Democratic leadership. It might be considered unusual to trade being a mover and shaker in Washington for service in a non-gubernatorial state position. But Becerra understood that being a state AG nowadays affords a prominent voice in national politics. He has since vowed to challenge President Trump at every opportunity, which apparently has already paid dividends for his political future.

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State Attorneys General Remain Unsteady Allies for Federalism

My thanks to Hans Bader, Michael Toth, and Jonathan F. Mitchell for their thoughtful responses to my essay concerning state attorneys general (AGs) and contemporary American federalism. Each raises good points about the AGs’ various roles in the era of executive federalism that has rapidly expanded during the Obama years. As all three authors note, AGs can and have pushed back on federal power in numerous ways that can indeed provide a check on administrative discretion and regulatory expansion. Ultimately, however, I would emphasize again that AGs are at best unsteady allies of federalism. First, I have a point of agreement…

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More Responses

They’re Not the Main Culprit

State attorneys general aren’t ruining federalism. It was already ruined, as Michael Greve’s 2012 classic The Upside Down Constitution chronicles. It is tempting to blame them, given how badly many state attorneys general behave. Some use their office to enrich themselves or their lawyer pals, or to pursue vendettas against adversaries. The attorney general of Pennsylvania,…

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State Attorneys General Didn’t Start the Fire

The American form of government, in the classic formulation of Justice Salmon Chase, contemplates “an indestructible Union composed of indestructible States.”[1] The Constitution, apart from assigning specific functions to the federal government, and prohibiting the states from exercising certain powers, largely leaves the determination of public policy to the 50 states. As numerous jurists, statesmen,…

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Federalism and State Attorneys General

There are many challenges in designing a federalist system of government. Perhaps the most daunting is how to create incentives for government officials to preserve a regime of state-by-state decisionmaking—especially when constituent pressures, partisan allegiance, or ideological beliefs tug in other directions. The U.S. Constitution tries to preserve state prerogatives by enumerating the powers of the…

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Commandeering Federalism: The Rise of the Activist State Attorneys General

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (C) speaks as Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (2nd from R) looks on during a press conference at the office of the New York Attorney General, July 19, 2016 in New York City. They announced lawsuits against Volkswagen AG and its affiliates Audi AG and Porsche AG. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

One of the most important developments in American politics and governance is that the attorneys general of the 50 states have become major players in national policy. Once relatively obscure stepping-stone positions focused mainly on small-bore issues, state AGs make their presence known today in area after area, be it health care, environmental regulation, guns, immigration, or cultural issues. The lawsuits they bring against federal agencies and the legal settlements they reach with corporations have led to stronger horizontal relationships among the AGs, and to any given AG’s working with—or against—his or her counterparts in other states as part of…

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Responses

They’re Not the Main Culprit

State attorneys general aren’t ruining federalism. It was already ruined, as Michael Greve’s 2012 classic The Upside Down Constitution chronicles. It is tempting to blame them, given how badly many state attorneys general behave. Some use their office to enrich themselves or their lawyer pals, or to pursue vendettas against adversaries. The attorney general of Pennsylvania,…

Read More

State Attorneys General Didn’t Start the Fire

The American form of government, in the classic formulation of Justice Salmon Chase, contemplates “an indestructible Union composed of indestructible States.”[1] The Constitution, apart from assigning specific functions to the federal government, and prohibiting the states from exercising certain powers, largely leaves the determination of public policy to the 50 states. As numerous jurists, statesmen,…

Read More

Federalism and State Attorneys General

There are many challenges in designing a federalist system of government. Perhaps the most daunting is how to create incentives for government officials to preserve a regime of state-by-state decisionmaking—especially when constituent pressures, partisan allegiance, or ideological beliefs tug in other directions. The U.S. Constitution tries to preserve state prerogatives by enumerating the powers of the…

Read More

State Attorneys General Remain Unsteady Allies for Federalism

My thanks to Hans Bader, Michael Toth, and Jonathan F. Mitchell for their thoughtful responses to my essay concerning state attorneys general (AGs) and contemporary American federalism. Each raises good points about the AGs’ various roles in the era of executive federalism that has rapidly expanded during the Obama years. As all three authors note,…

Read More

State Attorneys General Challenge the EPA’s Clean Power Plan

Coal plant at night

Last month, the EPA finalized major new rules requiring carbon dioxide reductions across the energy-generating industry. The rules require power plants to reduce emissions levels to 32% below their 2005 levels in the next fifteen years, and it is part of the administration’s attempt to force plants to shift from coal to wind and solar energy. President Obama views the new rules as a crucial part of his environmental legacy; he introduced his “Clean Power Plan” (CPP) as “the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global “climate change.”

The new rules are big, they are complex – but we’ve seen the basic story of what the administration is doing here before. In various areas of environmental policy, along with several other policy areas as well – most notably with immigration, health care, and financial regulation – the president has directed agencies to do through administrative edict what could not be accomplished through Congress. Think of the CPP as the failed cap-and-trade bill, take two – only now announced through the executive branch, rather than enacted through the legislature.

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Roving Bandits: A Discussion with Paul Nolette on the Power Wielded by State Attorneys General

federalism 2

Paul Nolette comes to Liberty Law Talk to discuss his book Federalism on Trial, which demonstrates how state attorneys general quietly became significant national policymakers. What was once a rather staid position in state government has become the source of entirely new regimes of conduct impressed on companies and industries. Incredible evidence of this legal revolution can be seen in the Master Settlement Agreement with the tobacco industry, which, courtesy of the attorneys general, sent $200 billion to the states and negotiated an entirely new cartel for the industry without a single vote in Congress. While some attorneys general have challenged…

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Generals of Regulation

Tutela legale, giustizia, avvocato, legge

Over the past few years, state attorneys general have brought dozens of lawsuits challenging the Obama Administration’s regulatory initiatives. In addition to leading constitutional challenges to the Affordable Care Act, AGs have sued to block new environmental regulations, implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial law, and a host of other federal policies. For those concerned about the size and scope of federal power, this is a welcome development. Who is better positioned than the states’ top litigators to use law as a bulwark to protect the rights of states against an expanding federal government?

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