Attorney General Josh Hawley has a plan for helping President Donald Trump.
He’s going to sue him.
It was a pledge Hawley, a Republican from Columbia, made the centerpiece of his successful campaign last year when he vowed to go to court any time he felt the federal government overstepped its authority. And in his first month in office, he initiated or signed on to four lawsuits seeking to repeal federal regulations implemented during President Barack Obama’s administration.
Earlier this month, he filed a brief in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the U.S. government’s consumer protection arm, arguing the agency’s “out-of-control regulations have been hurting Missourians for years.”
The guy occupying the White House may be a Republican now, but Hawley sees little reason to ease off.
In fact, he said Trump’s victory last fall made this type of litigation even more necessary. It could take months, or even years, for a regulation to be rescinded once it’s on the books. A lawsuit expedites things, he said, especially if the feds decide to settle instead of taking the matter to court.
“It turns out the best way to help President Trump pursue his agenda of rolling back federal overreach is to sue him,” Hawley said.
To his supporters, Hawley’s emphasis on attacking years of Obama-era environmental and business regulations is a cause for celebration.
“This is a correction that voters wanted when they elected him,” said Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
But to his critics, Hawley is simply trying to undo rules put in place to protect the health and safety of Missourians. John Hickey, Missouri chapter director of the Sierra Club, slammed the attorney general’s “politically motivated and frivolous lawsuits that waste taxpayer money.”
In some ways, Hawley’s actions are a continuation of his predecessor, Democrat Chris Koster, who regularly had high-profile skirmishes with the Obama administration. In 2015, Koster filed two lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: one over its state-by-state limits on carbon emissions and another over an expansion of the scope of clean water regulations.
But Hawley said he’s making the issue of federal overreach a much bigger priority, overhauling the structure of the attorney general’s office in part to put greater emphasis on what he referred to as the “federalism unit.”
“This is a top priority for me,” Hawley said. “I talked about it a lot during the campaign. I promised Missouri would be a leader in pushing back against federal regulations.”
Since then, Hawley said he’s gotten involved in litigation regarding overtime rules, endangered species protections and transgender bathroom policy. He’s also committed to pressing forward with a lawsuit instigated by Koster that hopes to strike down a California law barring the sale of eggs in the state that are produced by hens in cramped living conditions.
His latest foray into federal regulation involves the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Created during the Obama administration, as part of the Dodd-Frank Act, it is designed to be a consumer protection arm of the federal government focused on the financial sector.
The constitutionality of the agency is being considered by a federal appeals court. Hawley joined a group of 14 other attorneys general in asking the court to declare the agency unconstitutional.
“Government bureaucracies shouldn’t be able to impose burdensome regulations on small business and local banks without political accountability,” he said.
Ed Smith, policy director for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, said Hawley’s attempts to thwart federal environmental laws is particularly troubling in Missouri.
The Greitens administration canceled planning for an update to the state water plan, Smith said, and last year the legislature passed a bill changing the makeup of the state’s Clean Water Commission by allowing public representatives to be replaced with “special interests from the agriculture and mining industries.”
If federal regulations also fall by the wayside, Smith said, then “it’s not looking good for the general public in terms of clean water.”
Hawley sees his litigation as a way to ease unnecessary burdens imposed on Missouri businesses and individuals by the federal government. And he’ll keep looking for issues where his office can intervene.
“This office needed to be less reactive and more proactive,” he said. “My job is to seek relief for Missourians and defend them.”