Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks about the opioid crisis during a visit to Port Angeles on Friday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

State attorney general says he uses three-point test before deciding to sue Trump administration

PORT ANGELES — State Attorney General Bob Ferguson uses a three-point test to decide whether to sue the Trump administration.

Are Washingtonians being harmed? Does the state have good legal arguments? Does the state Attorney General’s Office have standing to bring a case against the president?

“If the answer to those questions are yes, yes and yes, then I’m interested,” said Ferguson, who has filed 17 lawsuits and three amicus briefs against the administration since President Donald Trump took office in January.

“People’s lives are being impacted in dramatic ways in each of these cases.”

Ferguson, a Seattle Democrat who took office in 2013, made national headlines when he successfully filed the first state lawsuit against Trump’s executive order to ban immigrants from seven predominately Muslim countries Jan. 30.

He challenged provisions in the travel ban as illegal and unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge James Robart issued a temporary restraining order four days later, stopping the executive order nationwide.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction Feb. 9.

“It was the first defeat for Donald Trump, the first lawsuit against him,” Ferguson said in a wide-ranging interview with the Peninsula Daily News on Friday.

The U.S. Department of Justice argued in briefs that Trump’s authority to issue the travel ban was “unreviewable” by the courts, Ferguson said.

“Many people disagree with my decision to file a lawsuit in the travel ban, but when I talk about that issue, they often say, ‘Well, wait a second, I’m not sure I want a president in either party to have unchecked powers,’ ” Ferguson said.

Ferguson has since challenged subsequent versions of the travel ban. Robart will hear arguments on “version 3.0” of the travel ban Oct. 30, Ferguson said.

In recent weeks, the state Attorney General’s Office sued to block new rules reducing women’s access to contraception, joined a multi-state coalition that is fighting to continue a key funding provision of the Affordable Care Act and sued the Trump administration over its decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

Washington, New York and Massachusetts are leaders on the 15-state DACA lawsuit.

“There’s 17,000 Dreamers in this state,” Ferguson said, referring to Washington immigrants who entered the county illegally as minors and would be subject to deportation if DACA is rescinded.

“If I’m not standing up for them, who is?”

The multi-layered lawsuit filed claims in part that even if the administration has the authority to rescind DACA, it cannot use personal information provided by Dreamers against them for deportation.

“Remember, they had to come out of the shadows to become Dreamers,” Ferguson said.

On the day the administration announced the end of DACA, the federal government removed from its immigration website a promise that Dreamers’ personal information would not be used against them, Ferguson said.

“How un-American can you be?” he asked.

“I get that people have disagreements on immigration policy, but I would hope that as a people, whatever our views are, we would agree that if we made a promise to these 800,000 Dreamers [nationwide], we should at least stick to that.”

The state Attorney General’s Office has taken the lead in some cases against the administration and played a more supportive backup role in others.

Of all the lawsuits that Ferguson’s office has filed against the administration, four have been resolved. The court ruled in Ferguson’s favor in two of the cases, and the Trump administration “just conceded” in the others, Ferguson said.

Ferguson, a former state chess champion, said he was not interested in suing the administration “for the hell of it.”

“I am mindful that when I bring a lawsuit against the president, I am doing it on behalf of the people of the state, and I’m mindful that not all the people in the state are going to agree with that,” said Ferguson, who made Time’s 100 Most Influential People list of 2017.

“And it’s important to me, in fact it’s incumbent on me, to make sure that I’m being very thoughtful in making those decisions.”

“There are many things that [Trump] does that I can’t stand,” Ferguson added.

“But if it’s a policy decision and it’s not illegal, well, that’s for Congress to determine.”

Ferguson said he twice sued the Obama administration for issues at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Eastern Washington.

“Nobody said I was being political then,” he said.

Because of the need for expensive expert witnesses, the cost of the Hanford litigation was more than the cost of all of the Trump lawsuits combined, Ferguson said.

“One of those lawsuits is still ongoing — protections for Hanford workers,” Ferguson said.

“We won the other one on the cleanup at Hanford.”

In addition to his lawsuits against the Trump administration, Ferguson’s office recently sued OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma for its role in fueling the state’s opioid crisis.

The suit alleges that Purdue used a “massive deceptive marketing campaign” and tried to convince doctors and the public that its opioid-based pills have a low risk of addiction, contrary to overwhelming evidence, according to a Sept. 28 press release.

Clallam County has one of the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths in the state, health officials have said.

Ferguson said he was surprised to learn there were enough opioids prescribed in 2013 for every man, woman and child in the state to have a 16-day supply.

He pulled the Attorney General’s Office out of a multi-state lawsuit against Purdue Pharma to file his own lawsuit against the Connecticut-based drug manufacturer.

“I just felt we were ready to go, and I’m not really a waiting-around kind of guy,” Ferguson said.

“It’s a big one,” he added. “And I wouldn’t file it unless I thought we could win.”

During his trip to the North Olympic Peninsula, Ferguson visited his Port Angeles office, met with the 24th District legislative delegation, spoke at a Rotary Club meeting — he’s been to 102 of the state’s 187 Rotary Clubs since taking office — and met with local Democrats.

Since he took office, Ferguson created a civil rights unit and increased the size of the consumer protection division from 11 attorneys to 27 attorneys.

Consumer protection and the civil rights unit are funded by recoveries.

“From a practical standpoint, in all of the work that we’re doing against Trump, there’s essentially no general fund dollars involved,” Ferguson said.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.