A Bulwark Against the Fed
Q&A with Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti on his efforts to defend the state from federal overreach.
If the past three years of pandemic-related policy have taught us anything, it's that a distressing number of people are fine with our country being less free. Fortunately, Tennessee appears to be an exception. From Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver’s (R-40) 2020 initiative to reaffirm Tennessee’s constitutional status as a sovereign state to the 112th General Assembly’s special session to reclaim Tennessee’s authority in reaction to top-down Covid policies in 2021, Tennessee has at least chosen to combat the domineering hand of the federal government.
In an attempt to better arm the Volunteer State against potential tyranny, AG Skrmetti hopes to create a special task force within his office whose sole focus would be fending off federal overreach through litigation. Now that both the General Assembly and the governor have hinted at their potential approval of such a unit, we conversed with the attorney general, who answered a few of our questions about what it would look like.
THE PAMPHLETEER: The initiative to create this new, separate task force/unit to focus on affirmative litigation against the Federal Government was an idea you mentioned during your initial interview for the Attorney General position. What inspired this idea?
SKRMETTI: Since a Supreme Court decision in 2008, state AGs from around the country have taken a more prominent role in holding the federal government accountable to its own laws and the Constitution. Elected officials in Tennessee have repeatedly expressed a desire for the Tennessee AG’s office to get more engaged in these cases. I think it’s important in our system of federalism and separation of powers to push back against encroachments from other parts of government, so I’m glad to engage. By having the legislature and the Governor authorize the new unit, it will be clear to everyone that our litigation against the federal government reflects the will of the people of Tennessee as expressed through their representatives.
Q: What are the main benefits of creating a separate task force?
A: Establishing a separate unit does two things. First, it allows this unit to focus on a small range of cases and recruit the right kind of specialists to litigate. Second, it ensures that the remainder of the office, all 180 attorneys and almost as many support staff, can continue to focus on providing outstanding representation to the state. We currently handle approximately 13,000 cases and I don’t want the people working hard on those cases to be distracted by these new responsibilities.
Q:Has this idea been executed in any other attorneys general offices?
A: Texas has an Office of Special Litigation that is somewhat parallel.
Q: When do you anticipate this task force will be established and do you think its existence will help with recruiting more talent to work in your office?
A: We have been preparing to stand up the unit, but it will not be established until the General Assembly passes and the Governor signs the budget that creates it. It will definitely help with recruiting.
Q: What will be the first cases/priorities of the new task force once it is in place?
A: We haven’t identified specifics yet, though my team and I have talked about some early options. Expect to see suits and comment letters pushing back against the federal government’s regulatory overreach. The unit will also investigate, and eventually litigate, corporate misconduct promoting ESG factors at the expense of consumers.
Since taking office, Skmetti has hit the ground running fighting federal overreach; through the power of his position he’s taken swift action on a number of issues, including the recent proposal to replace the term “sex” with “gender identity” in Title IX and the president’s Department of Labor rule change, which allows fund managers to "make investment decisions based on non-financial or non-pecuniary factors such as Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG)." Whether or not a task force is approved, it seems we can expect Skrmetti to maintain his efforts.