Capitol Alert

45 and counting — Trump lawsuits put California at ‘Hall of Fame’ status, Newsom says

On Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a pending legal challenge to President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the Mexico border that would become the state’s 46th lawsuit against the White House.

The 45 current cases range from one that would compel the Trump administration to let California set its own vehicle mileage standards to another that would strengthen the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act if courts rule against the White House.

Newsom at a news conference with Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the lawsuits are meant to protect policies that California voters support.

“I don’t want to be a sparring partner with President Trump,” Newsom said. “We want to be a working partner, but he makes it all but impossible when he plays these games and manufactures a crisis and creates the conditions where we have no other choice but to sue the administration.”

In fact, the state has so many lawsuits against Trump’s White House that Becerra received breaking news about one of the key cases just before his press conference with Newsom.

In that development, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear California’s challenge to the Trump administration’s decision to add a question about citizenship on the 2020 Census. Becerra argues that the question would discourage people from participating in the Census and potentially deprive California of revenue from the federal government if the state’s residents are under-counted.

Newsom and Becerra seemed to gloat about their record in court.

“If I were a baseball player, our batting average would be phenomenal,” Becerra said. “It’d be out of this world. I’d be a free agent making some good money.”

“Hall of Fame status,” Newsom said.

In a December 2018 appearance on The Sacramento Bee’s California Nation podcast, Becerra said the lawsuits are paying for themselves. As of October, the state had spent $9 million on its Trump-related lawsuits.

“In one case, we got to compel the federal government to provide to our state more than $29 million that they were withholding from us,” he said, referring to an August decision that obligated the Trump administration to release public safety grants. “That pays for the 45 lawsuits and way more.”

Of the dozens of active lawsuits, three issues hit at the core of the state’s ongoing feud with Trump:


  • DACA: California and other states won a major fight over Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The state sued in September 2017 to allow immigrants known as “Dreamers” to remain in the United States. In January 2018, California won a court order that allows DACA protections to continue.
  • CENSUS: The Trump administration faces a challenge from California over whether it should be allowed to go forward with a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The Census is used, in part, to determine how much money California can receive from the federal government. It’s also used for redrawing congressional districts and determining a state’s congressional representation. California fears a citizenship question would cause fewer immigrants to participate in the survey, which would disproportionately hurt the state. The Supreme Court announced on Friday it would hear the case in April.

  • BORDER WALL CONSTRUCTION: California lost a battle against the president, after a federal court ruled in favor of allowing the Trump administration to go forward with a construction project in San Diego. A couple months after losing the case in February 2018, Becerra tried to appeal the decision, saying, “A medieval wall along the U.S.-Mexico border does not belong in the 21st century.” He accused the federal government of violating existing environmental and public health laws.


  • PRUITT RECORDS: Becerra sued the Environment Protection Agency in August 2017 after it refused to hand over documents showing potential conflicts of interest from then-administrator Scott Pruitt. More than a year after the request, the EPA produced the documents. Pruitt resigned in July 2018.
  • FUEL-EFFICIENCY STANDARDS: In 2017, California accused the federal government of delaying increased penalties for automakers whose cars failed to meet fuel-efficiency standards. California won in federal court, forcing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to issue the fines. Becerra celebrated his “10th environmental victory in court against this administration.”

Health Care

  • AFFORDABLE CARE ACT: California joined 18 other states in May 2017 in opposing a lawsuit from House Republicans that aimed to undermine the Affordable Care Act — a major health care law passed under former President Barack Obama. Trump had threatened to stop payments to insurance companies as part of a cost-sharing program included within the law. The states settled the lawsuit with Trump and House Republicans later that year.
  • ENDING OBAMACARE: Red and blue states remain at odds over the constitutionality of Obamacare. In 2018, California moved to resist a Texas-led lawsuit calling for an end to the Affordable Care Act. Among many things, Texas challenged the legality of the individual mandate penalizing people who didn’t buy health insurance. Califronia’s motion to intervene was granted and the case is still making its was through the courts.
Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.