Junk lawsuits by Republican attorneys general harm their own people

As a former red-state Republican attorney general, it is hard to understand why current GOP attorneys general (AGs) are enamored with junk litigation that endangers their own states. The Texas lawsuit challenging the election results of other states, the court filings supporting Texas’s vigilante-style abortion law and the Republican AG challenges to President BidenJoe BidenMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Dole in final column: 'Too many of us have sacrificed too much' Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 MORE’s vaccine mandates all harm the interests of their own people.

In December, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, supported by 18 other Republican AGs, led an assault on the very heart of our federal system in the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the presidential election results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It was a junk lawsuit with no factual support or legal merit. The Supreme Court swatted it away in a mere three days. 

A few Republican AGs opposed the move to subvert the U.S. Constitution, recognizing the dangers posed to their states. Ohio Attorney General David Yost said that Paxton’s gambit would “undermine a foundational premise of our federalist system: the idea that the States are sovereigns, free to govern themselves.” 

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Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden also refused to join Texas, expressing “significant concerns about supporting a legal argument that could result in other states litigating against legal decisions made by Idaho’s legislature and governor. Idaho is a sovereign state and should be free to govern itself without interference from any other state.” Had Texas prevailed, it would have enabled any state to challenge the laws of another state — gun laws, pandemic measures and voting laws, to name a few. 

The legal attack on the U.S. electoral system was bad enough, but the rightwing AGs followed up with an even worse assault on democracy just weeks later. An arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association, with $150,000 donated by a grocery store heiress, funded a robocall urging a Jan. 6 march to the U.S. Capitol to “Stop the Steal.” It was an incomprehensible move. Luckily, the vice president heeded advice from his predecessor, Dan Quayle, and refused to go along with this attempted coup.

The next junk litigation engaged in by Texas and 18 other Republican AGs was asking the Supreme Court to uphold the Texas law outsourcing abortion enforcement to vigilantes across the country. The Supreme Court will soon issue an opinion, and I fully expect it to rule the scheme unconstitutional. During argument of the case, justices expressed concern about allowing private citizens to restrict constitutional rights, something that had apparently escaped the attention of the GOP lawyers. Laws of this ilk could be used to infringe practically any right contained in our sacred Bill of Rights. The Idaho AG, again, recognized the danger and refused to join this misguided ploy. 

More recently, most of the Republican attorneys general have aimed junk lawsuits at the president’s workplace vaccine mandates. Because so many red-state folks have stubbornly refused to get vaccinated that it became necessary to require those employed by federal contractors and companies with 100 or more employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Vaccine mandates are the quickest and most effective way to save thousands of lives and get back to our normal lives. Most red-state governors have done little to get their people vaccinated; some have even taken action to discourage vaccination. Without action by the federal government, success against the virus will be hard to achieve.

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Mandates work. After losing 151 employees to the coronavirus early in the pandemic, Tyson Foods implemented a vaccine mandate for its employees to keep its plants open. Now, more than 96 percent of Tyson’s workforce is vaccinated, its employees have safe work spaces and it does not have to worry about work stoppages. Similar results can be achieved by the federal mandates. Red states would be particularly benefited because the vaccination rates there are the lowest and the mortality rates are the highest.

The mandates will make their people safer and allow their businesses and schools to get back to normal, but Republican attorneys general have challenged the mandates in court. The conservative Republican appointees on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals have halted the 100-employee mandate and may rule against it. Other federal courts will likely uphold both mandates, but that remains to be seen.

If the Republican AGs eventually prevail in the suits, their constituents will lose — many their very lives. In fact, on Nov. 8, just days after AG Paxton sued to stop the mandates, Texas disclosed that more than 85 percent of its nearly 29,000 COVID-related fatalities between Jan. 15 and Oct. 15 were among the unvaccinated. The state’s unvaccinated were 40 times more likely to die than fully vaccinated Texans. 

Back in the 1980s, when I served as Idaho attorney general, my colleagues of both parties took pride in standing up for the rule of law. We strived to protect our people, often coming in conflict with powerful people in our own party. Party was subordinate to the interests of the public.

State attorneys general are now just as divided along party lines as any other group of officeholders. Political pandering is commonplace. What pains me the most is that a majority of Republican AGs have become so beholden to partisanship that they would endanger their own voters with junk litigation just to score political points.

Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran who served eight years as Idaho attorney general (1983-1991) and 12 years as justice of the Idaho Supreme Court (2005-2017). He is a regular contributor to The Hill.