Pushing Back on a Troubling Trump Trend That Threatens Our Courts

The separation of powers is a fundamental tenet of our democracy, a system of checks and balances that makes government accountable to all of us. But today, the system is breaking down as President Trump and his minions have called on courts to settle political questions at every level of government.  

More than ever, we need pushback from concerned elected officials, Democrats and Republicans alike, to counter the Trump Administration’s overtly political litigation agenda. That effort should start at targeting Republican attorneys general who are pushing the Trump agenda in courts throughout the country.

The president and his team have managed to turn much of federal law enforcement into a de-facto political arm of the White House. And at the highest level, Attorney General William Barr is a prime example of this political puppetry. Under his “leadership,” the DOJ has become a legal shield for the Trump administration and a weapon against the president’s enemies, including his political opponents and industries that he views as biased against conservatives, like big tech, or the Postal Service, or the auto industry, or any of a score of other enterprises the president chooses to target. 
And, this subversion of the law has been passed down to the state level. AGs like Texas’s Ken Paxton have seized on issues like the COVID-19 pandemic to advance the president’s agenda. A supposed “small government” proponent, many of Paxton’s rulings have only furthered the Trump administration’s overreach into local politics. More recently, Paxton proposed that any city that works to defund its police department should have its charter pulled, effectively dissolving the city altogether and giving control to state leaders. It’s a move straight out of the Trump playbook – threatening a takeover of cities working to create laws that he opposes.

Similarly, Paxton and others have threatened to close state abortion clinics, called for criminal action against those who vote by mail, and most recently, he has joined DOJ (surprise!) in leading an increasingly partisan election-year investigation into tech companies that the president has criticized for being “anti-conservative.” 
Meanwhile, here in Pennsylvania, AG Josh Shapiro has focused on advancing local legislation, calling on the State Legislature to pass laws that prevent police departments from hiring officers with a documented pattern of excessive force or misconduct. It’s a move that symbolizes what AGs are supposed to do. Courts should not be the forum for antagonizing the other side or inflaming already divisive political issues. Shapiro, by contrast, is focused on work that is beneficial to all Pennsylvanians  – combatting drug price gouging, protecting insurer coverage of birth control, and defending SNAP benefits from the Trump administration’s efforts to defund the program.  
We need our elected officials to send a message that it’s wrong to flood the courts with litigation that is solely focused on advancing a political agenda. We should follow Mr. Shapiro’s example instead and focus on working for the betterment of all citizens, not just those who agree with the president.

Let’s push back against this rising tide, for the sake of our courts and our future.

State Rep. Tim Briggs represents the 149th Legislative District in Montgomery County and is Democratic Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.