Suing the president becoming common practice for Georgia attorney general

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr has filed or been part of at least 11 multistate lawsuits that accuse the federal government of overreach since he was appointed in 2016, including making Georgia the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging President Joe Biden’s mandate that all federal contractors be vaccinated against COVID-19. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

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Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr has filed or been part of at least 11 multistate lawsuits that accuse the federal government of overreach since he was appointed in 2016, including making Georgia the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging President Joe Biden’s mandate that all federal contractors be vaccinated against COVID-19. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Georgia has at least nine pending lawsuits against the federal government in various stages of the judicial process — all which have been filed by Republican Attorney General Chris Carr, who faces a tough reelection next year.

Carr has filed or been part of at least 11 multistate lawsuits that accuse the federal government of overreach since he was appointed in 2016, including making Georgia the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging President Joe Biden’s mandate that all federal contractors be vaccinated against COVID-19.

And on Tuesday, Gov. Brian Kemp and Carr announced that Georgia was joining a Louisiana lawsuit challenging Biden over a vaccine requirement for staff members and some contractors with the early childhood learning program Head Start.

Georgia and other GOP-led states have coordinated efforts to challenge several pieces of Biden’s vaccine mandates, which are unpopular with many Republicans. Georgia is a plaintiff in four vaccine mandate challenges.

“Georgians expect leadership in these uncertain times, and I am proud to take action on issues that impact all Georgians in my effort to protect lives and livelihoods,” Carr said, repeating a catchphrase often used by the Republican governor.

The U.S. Supreme Court will take up two of those challenges in January. One is a vaccine mandate for health care workers. The other would require businesses with more than 100 employees to have their staffs vaccinated or tested frequently.

Challenging the president isn’t a unique strategy.

According to a database Marquette University professor Paul Nolette runs tracking the activity of attorneys general and state litigation, attorneys general filed 157 lawsuits against President Donald Trump’s administration during his four years in office.

Attorneys general filed 78 lawsuits during the two terms of President Barack Obama’s administration. There were 76 lawsuits filed against the administration of President George W. Bush during his eight years in office.

As of Nov. 20, attorneys general had filed at least 33 lawsuits challenging Biden, a Democrat, during his first year in office. Georgia is a plaintiff in seven of those challenges.

“They frame it as a concern that the presidency is taking on too much power without congressional authorization,” said Kerwin Swint, a Kennesaw State University political scientist. “But it is very often partisan.”

In other words, Republican attorneys general tend to file more lawsuits against Democratic presidents, and Democratic attorneys general more often file against Republican administrations.

The effectiveness of suing the federal government relies on the strength of the arguments made, Swint said. And when attorneys general sue a presidential administration, it typically generates headlines, and that could sway voters.

“They don’t always win, but I think they increasingly see it as a potentially effective strategy,” Swint said. “It’s a way of acting against something they oppose.”

Many of the lawsuits Carr has joined on Georgia’s behalf are Republican talking points. Georgia has joined lawsuits that challenge the Biden administration’s executive order banning discrimination against transgender students and staff as well as three challenges of policies Biden put in place to curb oil and gas development.

Carr has been targeted by some Republican voters who are upset his office defended the results of the 2020 presidential election — which Trump lost — in court against spurious fraud charges.

In April, he stepped down as chairman of Republican Attorneys General Association, a national group that advocates and fundraises for GOP attorneys general. The group funded robocalls that urged Trump supporters to march on the U.S. Capitol to press for overturning the outcome of the election the day of the Jan. 6 riot.

While Carr has no announced Republican primary challenger, two Democrats are running for attorney general — including Charlie Bailey, who narrowly lost in 2018 to Carr, who benefited from overwhelming financial support from the Republican Attorneys General Association.

Bailey said he believes attorneys general should sue the federal government if a policy violates the rights of Georgia citizens and to keep them safe from harm. Carr’s lawsuits challenging vaccine mandates don’t do that, Bailey said.

“By challenging vaccine requirements and mandates — the net result is less people will be protected against the most dangerous virus, by combination of its lethality and its transmissibility, in 100 years,” he said. “It means more people are going to die. That’s the bottom line.”

Republicans at all levels of government have taken on hot-button issues that fire up their base of voters and get them to the polls. And it’s worked in other states.

Earlier this year, Republican elected officials across the country took aim at making sure critical race theory wasn’t taught in k-12 schools. It is highly unlikely the law-school-level concept — which is based on the idea that racism is a social construct that is embedded in all aspects of our lives, including in legal systems and policies — is taught in Georgia’s grade schools.

The theory, often called CRT, became the central issue of Virginia’s close gubernatorial race, driving out voters and pushing Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin over the top.

Jen Jordan, a Democratic state senator who is running against Carr, said while she understands there are times when the state needs to challenge a presidential administration, she says many of the cases Carr has joined are mostly political moves done to bolster his reelection campaign.

“The issue with respect to Carr is he really has just used it as a political weapon, signing on to anything and everything with a sharp partisan edge,” Jordan said. “That should not be what’s driving the attorney general. The attorney general should be acting in a nonpartisan way and not use his or her power to do things that are just intended to help them politically in an election year.”

Carr said the suits he’s joined on behalf of the state were not done for political reasons, but to protect Georgians from federal overreach.

“I will fight vaccine mandates, indoctrinating our children with CRT, federal regulations that drive up gas prices and the (Department of Justice’s) highly political lawsuit over our election law,” Carr said. “Democrats think protecting lives and livelihoods is political. I call it doing my job.”