New Attorney General, New Opportunities

Constraining the size and scope of the federal government is an issue that should transcend politics or partisanship. State Attorneys General have a vital role in protecting states from regulatory and administrative overreach.

Iowans elected a new Attorney General to represent them in the 2022 elections. Forty-year incumbent Tom Miller was defeated by Republican Brenna Bird. Bird, who lost to Miller in 2010, built her winning campaign message around the idea that she would use the office to challenge President Joe Biden’s administration. But many Iowans may not fully understand how that process could play out.

The Attorney General is the state’s top legal representative. She can go to court to advocate for the state’s interests as they relate to the policies of the federal government. The first two years of the Biden administration have seen states challenge the legality of its actions on many fronts. Republican attorneys general have sued over a directive to calculate the “social cost” of greenhouse gas emissions, the revocation of the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, and the imposition of a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters. The Biden administration’s refusal to enforce immigration laws has also been challenged.

The need for these challenges will only increase in the next two years. With Republican control of the House of Representatives in the next Congress, the Biden administration will be unlikely to advance its agenda through legislation. It will be forced to rely even more on using the machinery of the administrative state to make policy. The administration will surely try to impose policy through administrative rule that it could not get enacted into law by the people’s representatives. Court challenges will be the only way to stop this overreach.

It will be important for Iowa to have a seat at the table during this process. Although the Iowa Attorney General’s Office is small in comparison to many other states, it won’t be doing the work on every lawsuit alone. States will work cooperatively to staff cases. Iowa will benefit from its partnership with other states, frequently those with larger pools of attorneys, to advance its interests in court without burdening Iowa taxpayers.

Constraining the size and scope of the federal government is an issue that should transcend politics or partisanship. Republican administrations are not immune to the temptation to do by rule what cannot be accomplished through a vote in Congress. If all that happens during a Republican administration is that the federal government’s overreach increases more slowly than it does during Democratic ones, the end result is the same: a federal government that goes beyond what the law allows. Our system of government is premised on the idea of checks and balances between the branches of government. Regulatory and administrative overreach can disrupt that balance unless someone is willing to take the case to court. State Attorneys General have a vital role in that process.

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