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Shoemaker leads Republicans chastising attorney general

Shoemaker leads Republicans chastising attorney general
Carroll County Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5 (Submitted photo / HANDOUT)

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, has sued the federal government over the Trump administration's travel ban as well as foreign payments made to Trump businesses, arguing they violate the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

On Monday, Maryland Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5, and 35 of his House and Senate colleagues — all Republicans — asked Frosh to dial it back. In a letter addressed to Frosh and sent to the media, Shoemaker and his colleagues questioned the legal merits of the lawsuits and asked Frosh to consider deferring to Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan before taking further legal action.

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"Every week, sometimes twice a week it seems, the attorney general is having some kind of press conference touting his latest and greatest lawsuit against the Trump administration," Shoemaker said in an interview. "He is tilting at political windmills and grandstanding for the benefit of folks in Montgomery County."

Prior to February, it was the Maryland General Assembly, which is currently controlled by Democrats in both the Senate and the House of Delegates, and the governor who decided when the state could sue the federal government, a state of affairs Maryland shared with eight other states.

That changed with the passage of Senate Joint Resolution 5, also known as the Maryland Defense Act of 2017, on Feb. 15, which gave the attorney general unprecedented leeway to sue the federal government. There is bipartisan precedent for an attorney general with that power, but not in Maryland: Before he was named by Trump to head the Environmental Protection Agency, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a Republican, sued that same agency multiple times during the Obama presidency.

Shoemaker, Hogan and many other Republicans opposed this expansion of power, in part because of the way it was passed — a resolution, unlike a bill, cannot be vetoed, according to Shoemaker.

"Governor Hogan was very clear in his opposition to the removal of executive branch oversight when the legislature changed the powers of the Attorney General for the first time since the Civil War," spokeswoman Amelia Chassé wrote in a statement.

Despite the partisan affiliation of the co-signers to Shoemaker's letter, he said he would like to revoke those powers, even if they might benefit a future Republican attorney general.

"I definitely think it should be rolled back, and I don't care who is in office," Shoemaker said. "This is an unprecedented abdication of both the General Assembly and the governor's responsibilities."

In their letter, Shoemaker and his colleagues ask that Frosh consider the merits of lawsuits; that he consider consulting with Hogan before filing more, even though he does not have to; and that he focus more on problems facing Marylanders, such as opioid addiction. The letter also asks Frosh for an estimate of the cost of these lawsuits, and for evidence that their are protecting Marylanders and their interests.

"Most of this litigation he has embroiled himself in is federal in nature, and those cases get expensive," Shoemaker said. "I'm not real hopeful, but I would respectfully ask that he consider our request."

In response to the letter, the Office of the Attorney General offered a statement rejecting the claim that Frosh's federal lawsuits were frivolous.

"Our office has done precisely what The Maryland Defense Act calls for: we have acted to protect the citizens of our state from the policies of the Trump Administration that threaten our health, our livelihoods, our environment and the Chesapeake Bay," the statement reads. "Ironically, the dissenting lawmakers accused the Attorney General of grandstanding, but delivered their letter, not to the Attorney General, but to the press."

Shoemaker, would not characterize sending his letter to the media as grandstanding.

"I guess my response to that is he has gobbled so much press attention by filing frivolous lawsuits," Shoemaker said. "I thought it was very important that he be put on notice both privately and publicly that folks were going to call him on it."

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