The Maryland Senate voted 29-17 Friday, largely on party lines, on a resolution that will empower the state attorney general to pursue cases against Trump administration policies. Republicans have staunchly opposed the resolution and walked out of the Senate Thursday morning in protest after their efforts to delay the vote failed.
The Maryland Defense Act of 2017 would allow Attorney General Brian Frosh to initiate legal challenges against federal actions that cause harm to Marylanders. In most states, the attorney general already has that power, but Maryland’s constitution requires the attorney general to receive specific directions from the legislature or the governor before pursuing cases.
The resolution is a reaction to executive orders issued by President Donald Trump in recent weeks and would empower Frosh to challenge those orders in court, as other state attorneys general have already done.
Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, R-Harford and Baltimore counties, said the Republicans walked out on Thursday because they “were angry” that the resolution was being pushed through without the common senatorial courtesy of a vote delay.
Jennings quoted Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s, chastising members of the Senate during the first week of the 2017 session when some attempted to resist a similar request for delay on a different bill.
Miller expressed a desire to move the resolution through the Senate as quickly as possible. He described the resolution Thursday as “divisive” and the debate surrounding it “mean spirited.”
Jennings said that working through divisions is part of the Senate’s role, saying that “we should stand here, we should debate it.”
Sen Justin Ready, R-Carroll, said Friday: “Part of the problem is not just what this is doing, but it’s why and how we’re doing it.”
Many of those opposed to the resolution said they worried it needlessly injected divisions frothing at the national level into state politics.
“We are federalizing issues and bringing the biggest hot button federal issues to the state level,” said Sen. Michael Hough, R-Carroll, and Frederick.
“I think we need to get back to the people’s business the state of Maryland sent us here to do,” Ready said. “We are state legislators; we are not congressmen or U.S. senators.”
Republicans also complained that the resolution is an attempt to undermine widely popular GOP governor Larry Hogan ahead of the 2018 election.
“We have a popular governor, the way to take him down–he’s obviously from the minority party–is to federalize as many issues as possible and try to tie him to those and drag him into that,” Hough said.
Senate Minority Whip Stephen Hershey, R-Caroline, Cecil, Kent & Queen Anne’s, said the resolution is an attempt to “tie this governor to an administration and trying to take away what he’s trying to do for the state of Maryland.”
Some Democrats painted the resolution as a general effort to protect the interests of Marylanders, implying that the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress are incidental to that goal.
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore, said “this is not about politics; this is about the fabric of our country. …This is simply a tool used by our attorney general to deal with concerns that all of our constituents have and we are here for all of Marylanders.”
Other Democrats were more blunt about the resolution’s purpose as an instrument to counter Republican-led efforts such as Trump’s restriction on travel from certain majority-Muslim countries, plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and the possible rolling back of regulations at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Sen. James Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel, said “we need our attorney general to go to court to make sure this president, Donald Trump, obeys all the laws.”
Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery, called attention to the potential impacts of immigration policies promised by the Trump campaign, saying, “The people in my district that I’m talking to are telling me they’re so afraid their families are going to be separated, the kids are going to be left here because they were born here, the parents will not be.”
A companion resolution is moving through the House of Delegates. If passed, the resolution would not require Hogan’s signature, eliminating the possibility of a gubernatorial veto.
By Jacob Taylor and Natalie Schwartz