People have different reasons for getting involved in public service. For some, it’s an ephemeral pull that manifested as early as a race for fourth grade class president. For others, it’s to serve the poor and the voiceless. Some come at it on behalf of tax cuts or a small government mindset, some with a patriotic bent, determined to defend the country’s national security.
Still others hope to one day have the opportunity to deport a whole bunch of young people who were brought into the country as little kids.
For 10 Republican attorneys general across the country, that dream is finally coming true.
In June, the 10 of them, joined by one Republican governor, threatened to sue President Donald Trump’s administration unless it ended DACA by Tuesday, September 5. And so, on Tuesday, Trump announced he would wind down the program. (He might not really do it, but that’s a different story.)
So just who are the elected officials who decided to take on the “Dreamers”?
DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an Obama-era program that gave 800,000 unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the United States as children temporary relief from deportation. In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, Attorney General Jeff Sessions partially rescinded the June 2012 Obama memorandum that created the program, announcing that applications would not be accepted going forward. Existing DACA participants whose eligibility expires between now and March 5 have until October 5 to apply for renewal, and DHS will adjudicate on a case-by-case basis applications that were received as of Tuesday.
The group of Republican attorneys general was specific about its demands. “If, by September 5, 2017, the Executive Branch agrees to the June 15, 2012 DACA memorandum and not to renew or issue any new DACA or expanded DACA permits in the future, then the plaintiffs that successfully challenged DAPA [Deferred Action for Parents of Americans] and Expanded DACA will voluntarily dismiss their lawsuit pending in the Southern District of Texas,” the group of 11 Republicans wrote, referring to Texas’s legal challenge to Obama’s 2014 attempt to expand DACA and create a similar program for parents of American citizens or legal permanent residents. “Otherwise, the complaint in that case will be amended to challenge both the DACA program and the remaining expanded DACA permits.”
Trump cited the threat in explaining his move. “Officials from 10 states are suing over the program, requiring my Administration to make a decision as to its legality,” Trump wrote in a statement Tuesday, calling DACA unconstitutional. “Thus, in effect, I am not going to just cut DACA off, but rather provide a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act.”
An estimated 1.1 million immigrants without proper legal documents qualified for DACA, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center report, and about 800,000 people have benefited from the program. Texas, which spearheaded legal action against the program, is home to 14 percent of the DACA-eligible population, second only to California, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Another 98,000 DACA-eligible people live in eight of the other states that challenged DACA: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Tennessee, according to MPI, whose estimates included individuals immediately eligible for the program and others who were potentially eligible. MPI’s study, which covered 41 states, did not include West Virginia, the 10th state part of the effort to end DACA.
Here, then, are the public servants taking on DACA recipients.
Ken Paxton is the leader of the Republican pack determined to end DACA. When he took office in early 2015, he inherited Texas’s federal lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s executive actions on immigration, arguing that Obama exceeded his constitutional authority. The lawsuit was one of Paxton’s early wins; in February 2015, a Texas federal judge enjoined the Obama administration from implementing the program, and a deadlocked Supreme Court in June 2016 kept the lower court’s decision in place. Despite threatening to sue Trump, Paxton has been an advocate of the president’s tough-on-immigration approach. The attorney general was one of 14 state attorneys general who filed friend-of-the-court briefs defending the White House’s travel ban executive orders.
During the 2016 Republican primaries, Paxton endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz, a fellow Texan and anti-immigration hard-liner. But Paxton is by no means a single-issue guy. He filed 22 lawsuits against the Obama administration over a period of two years, including a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which aimed to address climate change, and a Department of Labor rule that makes millions more workers eligible for overtime pay.
Paxton is also dealing with legal issues of his own. A Texas grand jury indicted Paxton for felony securities fraud in July 2015, charges he has described as politically motivated; he pleaded not guilty, and his trial is set for December. In April 2016, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused Paxton of violating securities laws, but a federal judge twice dismissed those charges. Paxton was elected attorney general in 2014 with 58 percent of the vote following two years as a state senator and 10 years in the Texas House of Representatives.
Jeff Landry was elected Louisiana’s attorney general in 2015, unseating fellow Republican Buddy Caldwell in a runoff election with 56 percent of the vote. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2011 to 2013, and a GovTrack analysis of his voting record described him as a “rank-and-file Republican.” As attorney general, Landry created a controversial task force to fight crime in New Orleans. In June, Landry, a former police officer, quietly disbanded the task force, citing opposition from New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who contested the authority of the attorney general’s agents to act as police officers in his city without permission. After the task force was disbanded, a federal judge agreed that Landry’s agents had no authority to make arrests in New Orleans. Landry is currently battling Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in court over whether Edwards can ban discrimination against LGBTQ people who work for the state government. Despite his relatively short tenure, Landry has gained influence among state attorneys general; in June, he was named president-elect of the National Association of Attorneys General.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley named Steve Marshall state attorney general in February to fill the vacancy created by former attorney general Luther Strange’s appointment to the U.S. Senate. Marshall, who served as Marshall County’s district attorney for 16 years, will be attorney general until January 2019, when Strange’s original term expires. In addition to joining the ranks of anti-immigration hard-liners, Marshall has sued Birmingham Mayor William Bell for covering a Confederate monument with plastic, citing a state law that prohibits the “relocation, removal, alteration, or other disturbance of any monument on public property that has been in place for 40 years or more.”
Doug Peterson was elected Nebraska’s attorney general in 2014, defeating Democrat Janet Stewart with 66 percent of the vote. He was an assistant attorney general from 1988 to 1990 and then spent nearly 15 years in private practice before running for attorney general. He has taken a strong position against the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana. He has complained about marijuana from Colorado crossing the state line into Nebraska, and he has challenged Colorado’s approval of recreational marijuana use on the grounds that it violates the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Peterson last week rejected a request from 17 state senators to investigate the State Patrol following an investigation which revealed that former State Patrol Superintendent Brad Rice had interfered with internal affairs investigations and violated the agency’s workplace harassment and equal opportunity policy. The attorney general last week announced his intention to run for re-election in 2018.
Leslie Rutledge was the first Republican and woman to be elected Arkansas’ attorney general. She won the 2015 election with 52 percent of the vote to Democrat Nate Steel’s 43 percent. Since then, she has reliably taken up the national Republican agenda. A Washington County, Arkansas, judge in 2016 upheld a law that prohibits business owners and landlords from firing or evicting someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity. (Churches, religious schools, day care facilities, and religious organizations are exempt from the law.) Rutledge appealed the decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which took her side and reversed the lower court’s decision. The state Supreme Court ruled that the ordinance violated a state law that bans cities from enacting protections not already covered by state law, since the Arkansas Civil Rights Act does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The justices did not rule on the constitutionality of the provision, despite Rutledge’s request that they do so.
Rutledge was one of 23 state attorneys general who filed a brief in support of New Mexico leaders who are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal of a ruling requiring the removal of a Ten Commandments display from the lawn outside City Hall.
Alan Wilson is serving his second term as South Carolina’s attorney general, a seat he won with 54 percent of the vote in 2010 and 60 percent in 2014. In 2013, it was revealed that Wilson failed to comply with state ethics disclosure laws by not reporting dozens of contributions, but because the errors were self-reported and he re-filed the reports, he did not face any penalties. The lifelong Republican in 2014 asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to intervene to stop the issuing of same-sex marriage licenses following ruling from a federal appellate court striking down state bans on same-sex marriage.
Lawrence Wasden has served as Idaho’s attorney general since 2003, and he is a rumored 2018 gubernatorial candidate. Wasden was one of 14 state attorneys general who sued the Obama administration for its health care overhaul on the day Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act.
Butch Otter was the sole governor to join the group of attorneys general pushing to end DACA. Otter has been active in Idaho’s Republican party since 1972, serving as a state representative, lieutenant governor, and in U.S. Congress. His anti-immigration stance is not limited to stripping DACA recipients of protection; following the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, he opposed the resettlement of Syrian refugees to Idaho. “It makes no sense under the best of circumstances for the United States to allow people into our country who have avowed the desire to harm our communities, our institutions, and our people,” he said at the time.
Herbert Slatery pulled his support last week from the effort to end DACA, urging Tennessee Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker to use legislation to support unauthorized immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. “It is my sincere hope that the important issues raised by the States will be resolved by the people’s representatives in the halls of Congress, not in a courtroom,” Slatery wrote. He was appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2014 for an eight-year term that expires in 2022. In April 2016, Slatery argued that Tennessee’s anti-transgender “bathroom bill” could cost the state millions of dollars in federal funding, but in May 2016, he said Tennessee would cover the legal costs if schools chose not to follow Obama-era anti-discrimination policies toward transgender students. He also joined 10 other states in suing Obama’s Department of Education over the policy.
When Patrick Morrisey assumed office in 2013, he was the first Republican attorney general in West Virginia since 1933. He was re-elected in 2016 with 52 percent of the vote to Democrat Doug Reynolds’s 42 percent, and he is a 2018 candidate for the U.S. Senate. During his first campaign for attorney general, Morrisey supported the multi-state effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and he opposed the Obama administration’s rulings against West Virginia’s coal industry. As attorney general, he has filed more than a dozen lawsuits and amicus briefs challenging the EPA, with little success. He has also filed several amicus briefs in cases centered on the Second Amendment. During the Obama years, Morrissey made “fighting federal overreach” central to his job as state attorney general.
Derek Schmidt has been Kansas’s attorney general since 2011, following a decade in the Kansas Senate, including six years as majority leader. One of Schmidt’s first acts as attorney general was to join dozens of states in a lawsuit challenging the ACA. Schmidt joined the “birther” movement in 2012, supporting Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s demands that Obama provide additional evidence he was born in Hawaii in order to appear on the 2012 presidential ballot. He joined a number of other states challenging Obama-era regulatory actions, including protections proposed by the EPA. He was elected this year as president of the National Association of Attorneys General.