DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa's Republican governor has rejected two-thirds of the Democratic state attorney general's requests to join multistate lawsuits, under an unusual compromise that has allowed her to repeatedly block the state's involvement in challenges to Trump administration policies.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller agreed in May 2019 to seek Gov. Kim Reynolds' approval before he would join multistate lawsuits. In turn, Reynolds vetoed a Republican-backed bill that would have prevented the state's top lawyer from joining any multistate suit unless the governor or Legislature requested it.
Although the deal has allowed Reynolds to block 45 of 67 requests by Miller, the attorney general said he didn't regret the bargain he made with the governor, which will expire when either of the officials leave office. Miller, 75, is the nation's longest-serving state attorney general, having been elected 10 times.
“The most important thing is that the agreement is temporary and will not affect future attorneys general in Iowa,” Miller said in a statement. “It’s also important that I — and future AGs — retain the authority to comment on legislation and regulations before Congress and federal agencies.”
A spokesman for Reynolds declined to comment.
Attorneys general join multistate lawsuits for various reasons. Often it's to recover damages for consumers in antitrust cases against companies when they attempt to quash competition, fix prices or limit availability of generic drugs.
But sometimes it's more partisan, as has frequently been the case with Democratic attorneys general who have opposed President Donald Trump's administration's actions and with Republican state attorneys general when President Barack Obama was in office.
Records provided by Miller’s office show that at least nine of the 45 requests rejected by Reynolds challenged the Trump administration on issues of immigration and asylum policies.
Miller also was prevented from weighing in on at least eight cases involving abortion or birth control. Several other cases involved the relaxation of environmental regulations, at least four related to limits on guns or ammunition, and three pertained to sexual orientation or transgender rights.
In most of the cases, Miller asked to file documents often provided by parties not directly involved in a lawsuit, called amicus briefs. They are designed to advise the court of additional information and provide arguments for a particular position. Some cases were before the U.S. Supreme Court, although most were before a federal appeals court.
Miller said his colleagues across the country have been effective in bringing cases on health care, immigration, environmental protection, education, consumer protection and other issues.
“This agreement has not stopped the filing of any legal actions,” he said.
Since most states have too few lawyers to take on large corporations, states combine resources in investigations and lawsuits, said Sarah Allen, an assistant attorney general in Virginia and chairwoman of the National Association of Attorneys General Multi-state Antitrust Task Force. The group includes 12 attorneys general, including Miller.
“It’s a way for us to effectively work together and pool our resources, both monetary and people resources that are necessary to investigate and then litigate these cases,” she said. “It’s also a way to show that this is something that effects the consumers the citizens in all of our states.”
Allen cited as an example the current investigation into whether Google and Facebook have illegally squelched competition and operate as monopolies. So far, more than 40 states are involved. Without a combined effort, the states might have to conduct separate investigations and if necessary file separate lawsuits.
“It doesn’t make sense to sue Google 50 different times in 50 different state courts,” she said.
She said Miller, with his decades of experience, has substantial knowledge of antitrust issues and is well respected.
Former Maine Attorney General James Tierney, who now lectures at Harvard Law School, said the bill passed by Iowa lawmakers would have shut Iowa out from any multistate settlements, potentially losing millions of dollars for the state. He said Reynolds was wise to veto the bill and that the deal with Miller was a good compromise.
“The Democratic lawsuits against the Trump administration will proceed without Iowa,” he said.
One of the recent cases Reynolds denied involved a lawsuit filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, which asked a federal court to block a Trump administration rule that would have required international students to transfer or leave the country if their schools held classes entirely online because of the coronavirus pandemic. Seventeen states joined the lawsuit.
The Trump administration rescinded the rule, which had drawn sharp backlash and legal challenges from higher education institutions that argued the policy would put students’ safety at risk and hurt schools financially.
Reynolds also denied Miller's request to file a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Pennsylvania and New Jersey as they challenged rules that allowed exemptions to the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act. In a 7-2 decision issued July 8, the court upheld the Trump administration rule that broadened religious exemptions to the birth control requirements.
Reynolds has consented to Miller’s request to join cases on topics such as binding presidential electors and defending states’ ability to enforce state and federal consumer protection laws against student loan service agents.