Maryland’s attorney general, Brian Frosh (D), is among the busiest lawyers in the state. Some would say too busy.
Luckily, he has more than 400 assistant AGs to pitch in. The sudden increase in Frosh’s workload is not so much because of any nefarious goings-on in Maryland as much as what is, or might be, happening in Washington, D.C.
There’s a reason for the spate of lawsuits against President Trump or agencies of his administration that Frosh has initiated or has joined.
Frosh, a Democrat, was liberated by the General Assembly in 2017 from the need for a permission slip from Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, to take legal action against Washington on behalf of Maryland.
Prior to that untethering, the attorney general of Maryland – unlike 40 others in the nation – needed approval from the governor to engage in lawsuits. More often than not, the governor employed outside counsel in heavyweight cases involving the federal government or the U.S. Supreme Court.
The attorney general’s primary role is that of the state’s top legal officer. Heretofore, that involved serving mainly in an advisory role, with assistant AGs deployed throughout the state’s bureaucracy to act on the many legal issues, big and small, that arise. In a curious arrangement, the attorney general serves as legal adviser to both the governor and the General Assembly, who are often at odds.
In approving the uncoupling of the two statewide elected officials a year ago, the heavily Democratic Assembly foresaw omens of Apocalypse in the election of Trump. Hogan, also no fan of Trump, opposed the removal of the AG from under his thumb as much to avoid the fallout from the unforeseen as well as the many opportunities to challenge a president from his own party that have developed under Trump’s authoritarian and vindictive approach to governance.
But Frosh is no novice. He served many years as a senator from Montgomery County and as chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which oversaw passage of many of the laws he is defending now, rounding out his first term as attorney general and running for reelection. Frosh’s Republican opponent is Craig Wolf, an attorney from Howard County. Herewith is a sampler of the legal actions Frosh has taken against Trump or in defense of Maryland:
Perhaps the most significant of Frosh’s legal actions is the case alleging Trump’s violation of the Constitution’s anti-emoluments clause, which he filed jointly with District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine.
In a signal legal victory for Frosh, Trump’s Justice Department has repeatedly tried to block the lawsuit, but Federal District Judge Peter J. Messitte, in a 52-page opinion, has allowed the legal challenge to go forward.
The case is important in that it alleges that Trump is benefiting personally from doing business with foreign governments and it eventually may require Trump to turn over his tax returns, which he has refused to do. It would be the first public look at whether Trump’s bank account matches his boasts and if his business interests, which he refuses to place in a blind trust, are entangled with foreign interests – as his son Donald Jr. has suggested.
Frosh has joined the attorneys general of 17 other states to fight allowing the Trump administration from including a question on citizenship in the 2020 Census form. The question supposedly originated with Trump’s secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, but it contains the sympathetic vibrations of Trump himself on racial minorities and immigration.
The 18 AGs represent states with heavy minority populations. Full Census headcounts are vital to states and localities. They are the basis for many federal formulas by which the allocation of funds are determined. An undercount can cost millions, and if non-citizens are tossed out the penalties against Democratic states could be punishing.
Frosh and 18 other Democratic AGs are suing Trump’s Department of Education for abandoning Obama-era regulations of for-profit colleges. It is noteworthy that Trump himself once ran a for-profit real estate school. Trump University, which he promoted as a “road to riches,” and was sued by former students as a shambolic operation. Trump was forced to pay a $25 million settlement.
At Frosh’s initiative, Maryland is among four states – along with California, Minnesota and Maine – that are suing the Trump administration over the abandonment of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which involves the nearly 800,000 so-called “dreamers” who were brought to America as children and know no other country.
Under DACA, children who meet certain requirements are allowed to remain in the country for two more years. Trump wants to deport them immediately, but the courts have intervened to block Trump’s expulsion of the dreamers.
Frosh is suing the Federal Aviation Administration to change flight patterns around BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport to alleviate noise. Residents in neighborhoods near the airport have complained that new flight patterns have significantly increased the noise level at one of the region’s three major airports, located in Linthicum, just south of Baltimore.
Frosh is investigating the business practices of the Kushner real estate companies, the firm owned by the family of Trump’s son in-law and senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner.
The investigation follows reports by Pro Publica and The New York Times of aggressive debt collection practices and the abusive treatment of tenants. The Kushner company owns 5,500 rental units in 15 apartment complexes in the Baltimore area.
Led by Frosh, Maryland was among the initial group of eight states that filed for a restraining order to prevent the distribution of files or blueprints that would allow anyone to make 3-D guns, after Trump’s State Department gave approval. A total of 20 states, and the District of Columbia, filed a letter of support, and a federal court blocked the paperwork needed for homemade guns.
And early on, Frosh joined a coalition of 19 attorneys general in a lawsuit to protest the Trump Administration’s systematic rollback of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Trump’s efforts to obliterate the law continues to this day through the issuance of “junk” healthcare plans which are inexpensive and cover just about nothing.
On an incidental note that has nothing to do with the Trump administration, Frosh has also asked the Supreme Court to allow the cross-shaped memorial, known as the Bladensburg Cross, to stand on public land at taxpayers’ expense.
After first declining Hogan’s urgent pleas, Frosh recently filed an amicus brief to preserve the memorial that was originally built by the American Legion but was taken over and maintained by the state since 1961. The American Humanist Association, a Washington organization of atheists and non-believers, claims the cross is unconstitutional because it sits on public land. The court has not decided whether to take the case.
Maryland’s last Republican attorney general was Edward D.E. Rollins, who was appointed to fill a vacancy in 1952, by then- Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin Jr. – the last two-term Republican governor of the state, an accomplishment that Hogan hopes to replicate.
According to Wolf’s published biography, he has been a prosecutor for the Department of Justice, counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and has worked as a lobbyist for the wholesale liquor industry. At the age of 40, following the 9/11 attacks, Wolf joined the Army and served as a legal officer.
Frosh is an unabashed liberal who represented the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area – District 16 – of Montgomery County for five terms in the Maryland Senate and two terms in the House of Delegates, a total of 28 years, before his election as attorney general in 2014.