The Race to Get Trump in New York Courts

New York State’s attorney general can investigate and prosecute the businesses and charities of Donald Trump based there, beyond the reach of presidential pardons. Four Democrats are fighting for the opportunity to lead the legal charge. Faced with a choice of a white woman, a white gay guy and two black women, all only marginally qualified, which Democratic candidate for New York attorney general should a progressive Democrat support?

The field also is a colorful illustration of the Democratic Party’s rapid march to the left.

With the primary Thursday, the race is still considered competitive.  Part of the reason is that, despite their identity diversity (a white woman, a white gay man and two black women), the candidates are all in lockstep on policy issues, and all are equally only marginally qualified.  Where these four facially diverse candidates all sit on policy tells a lot about where the Democrats are locally and nationally as we move into the 2018 elections.

Briefly, the four candidates are (alphabetically):

  • Leecia Eve, currently a Verizon executive but formerly an aide to Hillary Clinton,
  • Letitia James, the New York City public advocate,
  • Sean Patrick Maloney, a US congressman representing a Hudson Valley district, and
  • Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham, perhaps best known for her primary challenge against Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014 and her memorable name (the gift of hippie parents).  

The latter three are considered competitive.  Ms. James has the endorsement of the state party, Governor Cuomo and many unions, Representative Maloney has the most money, and Professor Teachout has the endorsement of both the New York Times and the New York Daily News as well as many prominent progressives.

The Democrats’ field is wide open because the previous occupant, Eric Schneiderman had to resign due to sex abuse allegations. But he had turned the office into a forward battalion of the anti-Trump resistance.  In addition to bringing or joining numerous lawsuits with other Democrat state attorneys general against a wide range of Trump administration policies, Schneiderman had used his position in the President’s home state to launch investigations against Trump’s businesses and charitable foundation. 

Should Trump use pardons to stymie federal criminal actions, New York state criminal prosecutions may still be possible, or so declare all the candidates.

This use of the office was paramount in the primary candidates’ debate at John Jay College in Manhattan.  The candidates vied to declare their unyielding opposition to the President from New York City.  So predominant was this theme that, at one point, the moderators asked what other policies the candidates would pursue beside opposition to Trump.  (Nonetheless Zephyr Teachout could not resist repeating that that was her top priority.)

To be fair, there were other issues that all the candidates all agreed on.  They would be unrelenting in their actions against business, especially Wall Street and real estate developers.  They vowed to carry forward the anti-Wall Street crusade that got Eliot Spitzer the nickname, “the sheriff of Wall Street.”  Spitzer parlayed his service as state attorney general into a successful run for the governorship, a post he occupied until resigning in a prostitution scandal.  (That their most prominent Democratic predecessors had both been credibly accused of abusing women was never explicitly addressed in the debate.)  And all agreed that they would fight the pervasive corruption in the (Democrat-controlled) state government, which has seen over 30 officials prosecuted or forced to resign.  Governor Cuomo’s nonchalance in the face of these scandals was mentioned only briefly, but Ms. James did seem uncomfortable about his endorsement.  Interestingly, the moderators did not ask how the candidates would respond to the obvious question of the general election, which is wouldn’t electing a Republican be a good response to Democrat corruption?

The uniformity of the candidates’ positions is matched by the sameness of their backgrounds.  Other than Ms. James’ brief stint as an assistant attorney general, none has ever been a prosecutor, or otherwise involved in law enforcement.  Indeed, none have very extensive experience practicing law at all.  (In fact, Professor Teachout has only just been licensed to practice law in New York.)  What legal experience they have has often focused on ideologically driven agenda, and service as Democratic apparatchik of various sorts. 

Absent from the debate or the candidates’ platforms is any concept of the state attorney general’s role as the chief law enforcement officer of the state (unless the defendant is Donald Trump, or perhaps a landlord or the Catholic church).  At the debate no mention was made of crime at all other than on Wall Street.  And no mention was made of the role of previous attorney generals’ aggressive anti-business agenda in earning New York’s rank as the 49th worse state to do business, due in large measure to its hostile legal environment.

So, how does a good Democrat decide who to vote for?  Undistinguishable by background or positions, there remains the candidates’ identities as members of aggrieved groups.  But how do you score that?  Do you get one point per group membership, giving Ms. James and Ms. Eve two points each over one each for Ms. Teachout and Mr. Maloney?  Or is there a more subtle evaluation? At the debate on Tuesday, both Ms. James and Mr. Maloney explicitly mentioned their aggrieved status in their introductions.  And the well-funded Mr. Maloney’s TV ads have focused on his status as a married gay man.  Since New York legalized gay marriage even before the Supreme Court wrote it into the Constitution, it would seem to no longer be an issue.

However, the legality of gay marriage would not be the reason Mr. Maloney mentions it so prominently.  In today’s Democratic Party, identity signaling is central, and the measure of one’s identity value is the intensity of one’s grievance.  As a white man facing three women, two of them black, it is critical that Mr. Maloney up his grievance score.

And this is where we find the Democrats today.  There is no need to make even token acknowledgments of the need to fight violent crime, promote a positive business environment or any of the other quotidien concerns of a state attorney general.  All that matters is the intensity of one resistance to Donald Trump and ideological zeal.

One should note that whoever wins the Democratic primary will have a Republican opponent in the general election.  Keith Wofford has several decades experience as a practicing attorney.  His expertise is in collection litigation, which might be summarized as following the money.  Given the extensive corruption in New York government, this seems like quite a pertinent skill set.  Mr. Wofford also happens to be black.  However, one suspects that in this Democrat-dominated one-party state, a candidate’s minority status only counts if one also parrots the approved white liberal ideology.

James W. Lucas is an attorney in New York City.  He is author of Are We The People? How We the People Can Take Charge of Our Constitution and other works on legal and constitutional subjects.

New York State’s attorney general can investigate and prosecute the businesses and charities of Donald Trump based there, beyond the reach of presidential pardons. Four Democrats are fighting for the opportunity to lead the legal charge. Faced with a choice of a white woman, a white gay guy and two black women, all only marginally qualified, which Democratic candidate for New York attorney general should a progressive Democrat support?

The field also is a colorful illustration of the Democratic Party’s rapid march to the left.

With the primary Thursday, the race is still considered competitive.  Part of the reason is that, despite their identity diversity (a white woman, a white gay man and two black women), the candidates are all in lockstep on policy issues, and all are equally only marginally qualified.  Where these four facially diverse candidates all sit on policy tells a lot about where the Democrats are locally and nationally as we move into the 2018 elections.

Briefly, the four candidates are (alphabetically):

  • Leecia Eve, currently a Verizon executive but formerly an aide to Hillary Clinton,
  • Letitia James, the New York City public advocate,
  • Sean Patrick Maloney, a US congressman representing a Hudson Valley district, and
  • Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham, perhaps best known for her primary challenge against Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014 and her memorable name (the gift of hippie parents).  

The latter three are considered competitive.  Ms. James has the endorsement of the state party, Governor Cuomo and many unions, Representative Maloney has the most money, and Professor Teachout has the endorsement of both the New York Times and the New York Daily News as well as many prominent progressives.

The Democrats’ field is wide open because the previous occupant, Eric Schneiderman had to resign due to sex abuse allegations. But he had turned the office into a forward battalion of the anti-Trump resistance.  In addition to bringing or joining numerous lawsuits with other Democrat state attorneys general against a wide range of Trump administration policies, Schneiderman had used his position in the President’s home state to launch investigations against Trump’s businesses and charitable foundation. 

Should Trump use pardons to stymie federal criminal actions, New York state criminal prosecutions may still be possible, or so declare all the candidates.

This use of the office was paramount in the primary candidates’ debate at John Jay College in Manhattan.  The candidates vied to declare their unyielding opposition to the President from New York City.  So predominant was this theme that, at one point, the moderators asked what other policies the candidates would pursue beside opposition to Trump.  (Nonetheless Zephyr Teachout could not resist repeating that that was her top priority.)

To be fair, there were other issues that all the candidates all agreed on.  They would be unrelenting in their actions against business, especially Wall Street and real estate developers.  They vowed to carry forward the anti-Wall Street crusade that got Eliot Spitzer the nickname, “the sheriff of Wall Street.”  Spitzer parlayed his service as state attorney general into a successful run for the governorship, a post he occupied until resigning in a prostitution scandal.  (That their most prominent Democratic predecessors had both been credibly accused of abusing women was never explicitly addressed in the debate.)  And all agreed that they would fight the pervasive corruption in the (Democrat-controlled) state government, which has seen over 30 officials prosecuted or forced to resign.  Governor Cuomo’s nonchalance in the face of these scandals was mentioned only briefly, but Ms. James did seem uncomfortable about his endorsement.  Interestingly, the moderators did not ask how the candidates would respond to the obvious question of the general election, which is wouldn’t electing a Republican be a good response to Democrat corruption?

The uniformity of the candidates’ positions is matched by the sameness of their backgrounds.  Other than Ms. James’ brief stint as an assistant attorney general, none has ever been a prosecutor, or otherwise involved in law enforcement.  Indeed, none have very extensive experience practicing law at all.  (In fact, Professor Teachout has only just been licensed to practice law in New York.)  What legal experience they have has often focused on ideologically driven agenda, and service as Democratic apparatchik of various sorts. 

Absent from the debate or the candidates’ platforms is any concept of the state attorney general’s role as the chief law enforcement officer of the state (unless the defendant is Donald Trump, or perhaps a landlord or the Catholic church).  At the debate no mention was made of crime at all other than on Wall Street.  And no mention was made of the role of previous attorney generals’ aggressive anti-business agenda in earning New York’s rank as the 49th worse state to do business, due in large measure to its hostile legal environment.

So, how does a good Democrat decide who to vote for?  Undistinguishable by background or positions, there remains the candidates’ identities as members of aggrieved groups.  But how do you score that?  Do you get one point per group membership, giving Ms. James and Ms. Eve two points each over one each for Ms. Teachout and Mr. Maloney?  Or is there a more subtle evaluation? At the debate on Tuesday, both Ms. James and Mr. Maloney explicitly mentioned their aggrieved status in their introductions.  And the well-funded Mr. Maloney’s TV ads have focused on his status as a married gay man.  Since New York legalized gay marriage even before the Supreme Court wrote it into the Constitution, it would seem to no longer be an issue.

However, the legality of gay marriage would not be the reason Mr. Maloney mentions it so prominently.  In today’s Democratic Party, identity signaling is central, and the measure of one’s identity value is the intensity of one’s grievance.  As a white man facing three women, two of them black, it is critical that Mr. Maloney up his grievance score.

And this is where we find the Democrats today.  There is no need to make even token acknowledgments of the need to fight violent crime, promote a positive business environment or any of the other quotidien concerns of a state attorney general.  All that matters is the intensity of one resistance to Donald Trump and ideological zeal.

One should note that whoever wins the Democratic primary will have a Republican opponent in the general election.  Keith Wofford has several decades experience as a practicing attorney.  His expertise is in collection litigation, which might be summarized as following the money.  Given the extensive corruption in New York government, this seems like quite a pertinent skill set.  Mr. Wofford also happens to be black.  However, one suspects that in this Democrat-dominated one-party state, a candidate’s minority status only counts if one also parrots the approved white liberal ideology.

James W. Lucas is an attorney in New York City.  He is author of Are We The People? How We the People Can Take Charge of Our Constitution and other works on legal and constitutional subjects.