Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson has been busy over the last few years. He’s been juggling federal lawsuits against the Trump administration, pharmaceutical companies and pushing for gun control legislation. He popped into Sound Publishing’s Kirkland office in early January for a question and answer session with staff.
Ferguson has filed or signed onto 54 lawsuits against the Trump administration. His philosophy is simple: Bring good cases the state can win, do the right thing and don’t worry about things you can’t control. There are three questions he asks himself before filing — do they have good arguments, does he have precedent and are Washington residents being harmed? If the answer to all three is yes, then they file.
“It’s Washington stuff. Every one of those cases impacts Washingtonians in our state in some critical way,” he said.
He gave the example of signing onto a lawsuit against the administration over funding for the border wall. Initially, he held off because Washington wasn’t a border state slated for construction. However, when it came out that $89 million in military funding was being diverted from Naval Base Kitsap to fund the wall, Ferguson sued.
Litigation from attorneys general across the country was much rarer before the Obama administration. But under President Barack Obama, Republican states organized and filed dozens of lawsuits against the administration. Ferguson said Democratic Attorneys General have started applying that to their Trump playbook. Looking forward, he expects that trend to continue no matter which party is in power.
“I think it may be a new normal,” he said.
And Ferguson seemed pretty confident with his track record after winning 24 cases and the rest ongoing. In his opinion, most of the executive orders the Trump administration file likely haven’t been reviewed by a legal team. That means they’re easier to pick off in court, Ferguson suggested. However, if the Trump administration spent time tightening up the orders, they would likely withstand lawsuits.
Another thing Ferguson counts as a win is what he views as the Trump administration’s loss of credibility in federal courts. He gave the example of an attempt to get a citizenship question on the 2020 census. The Supreme Court found the administration lied about its motivation for including the question. For Ferguson, that makes his department more credible to the judiciary.
“We can’t lose credibility with the courts, we’re there all the time,” he said.
More localized issues are on his mind too. He plans to pursue another statewide ban on the death penalty this Legislative session. Last year a bill passed in the Senate but didn’t move out of committee in the House. The state Supreme Court already has ruled that, as applied, the death penalty is unconstitutional, and there’s a standing moratorium from 2014 on executions enacted by the Governor.
Still, Ferguson wants a vote. He’s optimistic if it gets a vote, it will pass this year.
“A bill like that’s a heavy lift any year, but we feel optimistic that this could be the year we get it across the finish line,” he said. “…More and more I think individuals see that it’s ineffective. It doesn’t serve as a deterrent, it’s costly and it’s disproportionate.”
Guns and car tabs are also on the agenda.
Following the passage of the Tim Eyman-sponsored Initiative 976, Ferguson’s office was charged with defending it from legal appeals. He said his office will defend it all the way through, including up to the state Supreme Court. Provided he thinks they have arguments that can win.
“That’s our job — we defend initiatives approved by the voters,” he said.
On guns, Ferguson requested three bills from the Legislature this year. They include banning the sale of high-capacity magazines (defined as any magazine that can hold more than 10 rounds), a sales ban on assault weapons and creating background checks for buying ammunition.
He thinks further regulations could help reduce future mass shootings in the state.
“I don’t think any one bill is going to change that on its own, but I think there are things the state can do that would lessen the chance of a mass shooting. Or if there is a mass shooting, lessen the loss of life,” he said.
Gun legislation is hard to sell, but he had “no doubt” that if the high-capacity magazine bill were to make it to the floor for a vote that it would pass. Of the three bills, it’s the one he views as most important. However, it’s the one area where he said he’s been unable to garner bipartisan support.
However, Democratic leaders in the Legislature have signaled they may be more cautious during the short 60-day session.
At a Jan. 9 Legislative preview, House Speaker-designate Laurie Jinkins said she would focus on making existing laws work better, like enforcing background checks. She and her counterpart in the Senate, Andy Billig, said they would need to discuss the high-capacity magazine and assault weapons sales bans.