Report: Gov. Reynolds has repeatedly stopped Iowa AG Tom Miller from joining lawsuits against the Trump administration

Official photos of AG Tom Miller and Gov. Kim Reynolds. Illustration by Jordan Sellergren

Since May, Gov. Kim Reynolds has prevented Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller from submitting friend-of-the-court (also known as amicus) briefs in 10 federal lawsuits brought by other states against the Trump administration, Laura Belin reported at Bleeding Heartland on Monday. The cases involve environmental regulations, gun control, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights and the treatment of asylum seekers.

Miller agreed in May to seek Reynolds’ permission before joining any federal lawsuit, in exchange for the governor using her line-item veto to remove a provision in an appropriations bill that would have imposed exactly the same restriction on the attorney general.

Miller had angered Republicans in the Iowa legislature by joining more than 40 federal lawsuits against the Trump administration, starting in February 2017, when he joined other state attorneys general in challenging the administration’s so-called “Muslim ban.”

Republicans had already cut the attorney generals’ office budget by $600,000 to punish Miller for challenging the Trump administration, before passing the restriction on the attorney general.

Miller explained that he volunteered to abide by Reynolds’ decisions, in exchange for her veto of the provision, because he didn’t want a law aimed at him to restrict the power of future Iowa attorneys general.

“My greater concern was always about the institution of the Attorney General and its powers and duties,” Miller said when his deal with Reynolds was announced. “My successors were always more important than the current Attorney General.”

He also conceded, “This means that generally I will not be suing the Trump administration.”

It had been reported in July that Reynolds denied Miller permission to file an amicus brief in a multi-state lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s proposed rollback of air quality standards on coal-fired power plants.

Belin filed an open records request for documents in other cases that Miller sought permission to join. She uncovered a second environmental case: The attorney general asked permission to add his name to an amicus brief in a lawsuit brought by the Union of Concerned Scientists seeking to overturn an EPA regulation that would prevent many leading scientists from serving on the agency’s advisory boards. Reynolds refused.

Miller has also unsuccessfully sought permission to follow up on actions he’d previously taken on Trump’s immigration policies.

Prior to his agreement with Reynolds, Miller had joined 16 other state attorneys general in suing the Trump administration to end its “practice of refusing entry to asylum applicants who present at Southwestern border ports of entry and its cruel and unlawful policy of forcibly separating families who enter the country along our Southwestern border.” The 2018 lawsuit also sought to force the administration to reunite children currently in custody with their families.

Since the May agreement, Reynolds has refused to allow Miller to join amicus briefs in three case challenging Trump administration immigration and asylum policies.

One case seeks to enforce a previous court decision that required detained child migrants to be kept “in facilities that are safe and sanitary.” Another challenges the administration’s decision to not allow asylum claims based on fear of “domestic violence or gang violence.” The third case challenges the administration’s fast-tracking of deportation proceedings.

Reynolds also refused to allow Miller to join amicus briefs in two gun control cases. One would have been in support of a California law banning high-capacity magazines, the other of a New York City regulation on handguns.

In keeping with her decision to sign a law banning state Medicaid funds from being used for gender affirmation medical procedures, circumventing a recent Iowa Supreme Court decision, Reynolds refused to allow Miller to join a brief in a major LGBTQ rights case the U.S. Supreme Court will hear next month.

In that case, Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman in Michigan, filed a federal lawsuit against her former employer, Harris Funeral Homes, for firing her after she told the owner she was transitioning. For years, federal courts have ruled that Title VII of the federal civil rights law that forbids discrimination based on race, national origin, religion and sex, protects transgender individuals. The funeral home claims that continuing to employ Stephens would violate the owners’ religious beliefs. In October 2018, the Trump administration filed a brief supporting the funeral home and arguing that nothing in federal law prohibits discrimination against transgender people.

Even less surprising is Reynolds’ decision to forbid Miller from signing briefs in two cases regarding reproductive rights. The cases challenge new abortion restrictions in Indiana and Kentucky as violations of Roe v. Wade.

In May 2018, Reynolds signed into law the country’s most restrictive abortion law, which would have banned almost every abortion performed after six weeks of pregnancy (before many women realize they are pregnant), despite warnings that the law violated rights guaranteed by both the Iowa and U.S. Constitutions.

“This is about life and I believe life is life, whether it’s inside the womb or outside the womb,” Reynolds said when she signed the bill.

In January, a state district court judge struck down the law as violating the Iowa Constitution.

Reynolds has allowed Miller to participate in four multi-state lawsuits against companies, and one involving whether a city is required to offer paid leave to employees on active service with the National Guard.

Miller, who is in his 10th term, is the country’s longest-serving attorney general. No other state attorney general has to seek a governor’s permission before joining any federal lawsuit.

Belin contacted Reynolds’ office for comment on why she has repeatedly refused to allow Miller to participate in federal lawsuits, but received no response.