What was your reaction as the presidential election results came in the night of Nov. 8?
I, like almost everyone else, was quite surprised the night of the election. When Trump announced his intention to run, I actually thought he could win because the field was so large and he was capable of generating an enormous amount of celebrity publicity. But when he won the nomination, I thought he would lose is a landslide of epic proportions.
As the campaigns proceeded and Hillary Clinton managed to appear increasingly distasteful and distrustful, I thought maybe Trump would pick up a few more states, despite his penchant for making wildly impolitic statements. But winning never seemed like a realistic possibility. Indeed, we were already planning out some new strategies for dealing with an increasingly hostile judiciary and a U.S. Supreme Court that might tilt sharply leftward for decades to come.
So, I was both stunned and relieved that the election turned out the way it did. As I sat watching the results come in, I began to realize that we would be able to continue to persuade the Supreme Court to return to constitutional first principles in the defense of private property rights and individual liberty.
Have the election results invigorated your supporters in any way?
PLF has been around for 43 years, and we’ve never actually noticed that the occupant-du-jour of the White House has had a huge impact on our funding. We’ve never really had an appreciable number of donors say to us, “now that Ronald Reagan/Bush I/W. is in office what PLF does is no longer vital.” Conversely, we’ve never seen an appreciable increase in donors just because Bill Clinton or Barack Obama were in office.
That only makes sense, because the administrative state is much larger than any one president. We’ve sued the federal government year-in and year-out no matter who the president has been. And even if we have a president who would like to change the direction of administrative agencies, that effort will only engender more litigation. And no matter what the new administration attempts to do, it will take much longer to accomplish than the president-elect anticipates.
How, if at all, do you see the change in presidential administrations affecting the work that the PLF does over the next four years?
The president-elect remains something of an enigma. While Pacific Legal Foundation pursues goals that are libertarian and conservative, the president-elect seems much more a pragmatic conservative motivated by self-interest than a libertarian. His stance on the use of eminent domain, for example, remains highly problematic considering his history with Vera Coking. I don’t see the need for an organization like PLF to have diminished one iota because we will now have a President Trump as opposed to another President Clinton.
California’s leaders have recently said that they’re ready to defend the state’s laws and policies against President-elect Trump’s initiatives. What potential legal challenges do you see arising if this state-federal conflict materializes? Is there a role for the PLF to play in such conflicts?
While we’ve heard some recent colorful rhetoric from Governor [Jerry] Brown over his commitment to protect California’s environmental agenda, even to the point of launching a satellite if need be, I really don’t see much chance for a huge battle between California’s laws and any changes to the administration.
For example, there is much to criticize in our vaunted AB 32 cap-and-trade program. It is unconstitutional. But it’s our program. And if California wishes to continue down the road set in motion by AB 32 with ever-increasing command and control over our economy that is our choice, and there isn’t much of anything President-elect Trump can do about it.
So, if California wants to double down on decarbonizing the economy, then we can say no to jobs, say no to the economy, and stick a finger in Donald Trump’s eye all at the same time—the ultimate in feel-good self-immolation. Of course, there could be some conflicts around the edges, such as whether the EPA approves California’s emission waivers and the like that allow us to impose stricter standards on vehicle emissions. And some disputes may arise over offshore drilling, but I tend to think this will be one of the last places where anyone thinks about more offshore drilling.