California AG plans how to thwart Trump with lawsuits if he wins another term

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California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said he and his staff have been reviewing former President Trump’s second-term agenda in detail to prepare a potential onslaught of environmental, immigration and civil rights lawsuits in the event Trump defeats President Biden.

“We can’t be caught flat-footed,” Bonta said in in interview Thursday in Washington. “Fortunately and unfortunately, we have four years of Trump 1.0. We know some of the moves and priorities; we expect them to be different.”

Bonta, a Democrat who is mulling a run for governor, said he has been reviewing the work of his predecessor, Xavier Becerra, who filed more than 100 suits against Trump policies before leaving the office to become Biden’s secretary of Health and Human Services. Bonta and his deputies are also looking closely at a document drafted by the Heritage Foundation, a Trump-aligned think tank, known as “Project 2025,” that offers a blueprint for Trump’s second-term policy goals.

California’s slate of Democratic politicians have long seen themselves as a bulwark against conservative policies, never more so than during Trump’s presidency, when the state became the de facto headquarters of the so-called resistance. The challenges to Trump, while popular with many supporters, at times put Democrats in the awkward position of asserting states’ rights after long advocating for standards that would apply across the country. Critics said the constant lawsuits were politically motivated and distracted from the attorney general’s other duties, including protecting consumers.

The challenges also helped Trump politically at times, as it allowed him to use the state as a foil when he failed to carry out some of his agenda.

With states growing increasingly polarized, attorneys general from both red and blue states now play high-profile roles in feuding with the federal government when it’s run by the opposite political party. The Obama administration was sued 58 times by Republican attorneys general, according to a tally maintained by Paul Nolette, a political science professor at Marquette University. Since Biden has been in office, GOP attorneys general have filed 55 lawsuits against his administration’s policies.

The figures represent a substantial increase from prior administrations. And the lawyers have generally won. Republican attorneys general beat Obama in court 64% of the time, and they are defeating Biden at a 76% rate, according to Nolette. Democratic attorneys general, who sued Trump 155 times, won 83% of the time.

Bonta singled out several efforts to thwart Trump, including former Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to sign the Paris climate accord after Trump dropped out “to maintain that leadership role in the world that we’re gonna continue with climate action.”

Becerra challenged Trump’s power on a number of fronts, including climate, healthcare, immigration, gun control and civil rights. He won many of those battles, including Trump’s plan to repeal an Obama administration order to protect so-called Dreamers from deportation. Trump abandoned plans to add a citizenship question to the census after a multistate lawsuit that included California.

A second Trump term would likely also invite new challenges on abortion laws, LGBTQ+ rights and the rights of parents and children to seek transgender treatment, Bonta said.

“So there’s a whole lot of contingencies and then, you know, looking at the different constitutional clauses and component parts of the Constitution that would be the groundwork and the basis for our potential challenges,” he said.

There are limits to the legal strategy that even Bonta acknowledged. The federal government has control over immigration enforcement, Trump’s top priority. While states can decline some assistance to the federal government, they cannot protect immigrants who are in the country illegally from deportation.

“If it’s the federal government’s job, they can do it,” he said.

The state can provide legal assistance and ensure that people get due process, but “immigration has long been an area of federal law.”

Asked for comment on Bonta’s plans, Anna Kelly, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, said, “California liberals will try anything to spread their failed, fringe-left agenda far and wide, but they won’t stop President Trump from making America great again.”

Bonta was in Washington for an event with Vice President Kamala Harris, another one of his predecessors, to celebrate Asian & Pacific American Heritage Month. He acknowledged that he is considering a run for governor in 2026 and said he would decide after the November election. He could also run for another term as attorney general.

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