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Why is Oklahama's AG Waging Civil War Against the United States of America?

Oklahama's state attorney general is at war with the federal government. Is this a case of Confederacy-lite?
 
 
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The fact that only 49 state attorneys general entered into the mortgage fraud foreclosure fraud settlement focused attention briefly on Oklahoma’s AG, E. Scott Pruitt. The Oklahoma Republican Party bills Oklahoma as the reddest state, and Pruitt is beet red. He refused to enter into the settlement not because it was too weak, but because it provided any reduction in the principal amount of the debt of distressed Oklahoma homeowners.

The distinguishing characteristic about Pruitt is that he was elected on the promise to launch a litigation war against the federal government, particularly federal regulation. Pruitt and his counterparts in Virginia (Ken Cuccinelli) and Florida (Pam Bondi) claim that their principal function is protecting their citizens from the depredations of – the United States of America. Pruitt, echoing argument put forward in South Carolina in 1860, has expressly politicized the cause as opposition to the elected President of the United States. He asserts that regulation is inherently illegitimate because it is done by “unelected bureaucrats.” (So is policing and firefighting and service in the military, but never mind.)  As he put it, “Oklahomans deserve an Attorney General who will stand up to the Obama Administration that seeks greater and greater control your life. Oklahomans deserve an Attorney General who will stand unapologetically for the truths of the Constitution."

It is no coincidence that Pruitt, Cuccinelli, and Bondi represent states (a territory in the case of Oklahoma) that supported the Confederacy and use phrases and arguments made famous by secessionists. They represent the resurgence of the old, sad embrace of the great lie. The United State of America, the greatest democracy in world history, is supposedly the great evil threatening Virginia, Florida, and Oklahoma. The Confederacy viewed the great evil as the threat to the “state right” to “our way of life.”  One hundred and fifty years ago the worst disaster in U.S. history was brought on by proponents of this monstrous system. It took 150 years of massive bailouts from the Northern and Western states to the states and territories that supported the Confederacy to make it possible for them to overcome the damage their racism did to their economies.

The new Confederacy-lite has no “noble cause” akin to slavery, but the cry is still the need to preserve “our way of life.” Pruitt, during his election campaign, highlighted what he described as the epitome of federal tyranny destroying the freedom of Oklahomans. Listen to the full horror of the federal regulatory assault on the cherished “way of life” of Oklahomans.

On Fish and Freedom(See Facebook page)

"Republican candidate for attorney general, Scott Pruitt, said today the recent petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and several other groups with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban lead in ammunition and fishing tackle is a direct assault on the freedoms guaranteed Oklahomans under the Second Amendment. While visiting the Lawton area today, Pruitt said, 'The attempts to ban lead in ammunition and fishing tackle is a back-door attack on basic freedoms we enjoy as Oklahomans and our way of life. Should the Environmental Protection Agency pursue this ban, as attorney general, I will do all I can to stop Washington bureaucrats like the EPA.'"

Lead is highly toxic, so removing lead from ammunition would be exceptionally good for waterfowl (who feed in a way that can fatally concentrate lead pellets) and for hunters who eat waterfowl. Non-toxic ammunition is now readily available. I do not know why Pruitt thinks that preventing the poisoning of waterfowl “is a[n] attack on basic freedoms” and Oklahomans’ “way of life.” The Oklahoma “way of life” is to shoot waterfowl and eat them. You cannot shoot or eat waterfowl that die from poisoning themselves by ingesting lead shot in a marsh along the migratory flyway six hundred miles north of Oklahoma. Waterfowl are big believers in interstate commerce.

We adopted the U.S. Constitution in great part because under the Articles of Confederation the states interfered with interstate commerce in ways that harmed the national interest and because the States could not protect their citizens’ interests when protecting those interests depended on actions taken in other states. [EPA denied the petitions asking it to regulate lead ammunition and sinkers.]

It isn’t fair, of course, to characterize Pruitt’s passion to defend the right to poison ducks as typical of his basis for making his assault on federal regulation his office’s top priority. Pruitt wants to sue to stop most federal regulations that protect Americans. Oklahoma is a huge energy producer, so Pruitt’s real hate is any rule that restricts pollution or increases energy efficiency. Under Pruitt’s ideology, it is tyrannical for the EPA to protect Americans from pollution or for Congress to require NHTSA to adopt rules requiring that vehicle manufacturers improve the fuel efficiency. Providing health care to Oklahomans who cannot afford health care is tyrannical. 

On Limited Government(See Pruitt website)

"The passage of President Obama’s healthcare legislation in Washington fundamentally alters the relationship of citizen to government in America. Rather than government serving the citizen, it seeks to become master, controlling, dictating and utilizing power it does not possess.

Our founding documents are legal documents, not suggestions. They exist to control the impulses of men, and counteract the temptation toward tyranny; where elected individuals think they know better than the people they serve, that they are somehow more enlightened. The Founders defeated a monarchy that believed such things. We must in our generation now do the same.

I will, on behalf of Oklahomans, initiate a constitutional challenge to the legislation in its entirety, with a goal of rendering the legislation null and void in the State of Oklahoma.”

Pruitt has a self-inflicted problem with candor when it comes to his openly partisan attack on what he repeatedly labeled “Obamacare.” He now repeatedly denies that he has made such references: “Pruitt, who was elected attorney general last year, said his office has filed two lawsuits against the federal government’s Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. However, Pruitt said he does not refer to the controversial health care legislation as Obamacare because the issue is not about politics for him.”

Pruitt gently chidedthose who refer to the law as "Obamacare," saying, "You will never hear me say 'Obamacare.' This is too important of an issue to make it partisan. It's not about health care. It's about the Constitution."

On Protecting Criminals

In the face of budget cuts that have greatly reduced the already grossly inadequate ability of state AGs to protect their citizens from elite white-collar criminals, Pruitt redirected the scarce resources of his office away from protecting the citizens from the elite criminals. 

“As part of keeping one of my primary commitments during the campaign, I formed a special federalism unit dedicated to the purity of constitutional balance of power, enforcing the plain meaning of the founders' directive that the federal government be one of specific and enumerated powers, and conversely preserving to Oklahoma and its citizens reserved powers, all with an aim of preserving individual liberty. The Office of Federalism is under the direction and leadership of my Solicitor General, who constantly monitors the actions of the federal government and works as my top appellant litigator.”

Pruitt's "Office of Federalism"

"Inside the Office of Federalism I will assign attorneys in the A.G.'s office whose primary responsibility is to determine how the office can and should push back against Washington. Whether it's related to property rights, the right to keep and bear arms, the right to educate our children, or related to the first amendment, the attorney general must have resources and leaders internal to the office fighting those battles every day."

In addition to bringing suit against the Obama Administration’s newly passed health care mandates, the new Office of Federalism will defend Oklahomans against agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency when its regulations seek to establish climate and energy policy absent congressional action, and the Nat'l Highway Traffic & Safety Administration in setting new fuel-economy standards.”

The federal government is a massive enterprise, yet Pruitt has prioritized his inadequate resources to “constantly monitor[] the actions of the federal government” in an effort to achieve “purity” of the constitutional balance of power. His office brings suits designed to allow elites to become even wealthier by maiming or killing others through their pollution.

Pruitt brags, “This week, we also saw the EPA delay the announcement of draconian ozone standards they seek to put in place to advance a leftist-environmental agenda until after the November elections. This is the politics of Washington bureaucrats trying to hide their intentions from the people of Oklahoma, and it’s got to be stopped.”Pruitt said as attorney general one of the first initiatives of his administration will be to prioritize resources in the AG’s office, and dedicate a team to defend against abuses of power by the federal government that impact Oklahomans, “I will assign attorneys in the AG’s office whose primary responsibility is to determine how the office can and should push back against Washington. Whether its related to property rights, the right to keep and bear arms, the right to educate our children, or related to the first amendment, the attorney general must have resources and leaders internal to the office fighting those battles every day,” said Pruitt.

Pruitt has promoted himself as new type of Attorney General. In his words, "I will be an activist Attorney General, but from the conservative side of the political spectrum. I will shift existing resources to create an 'Office of Federalism' whose task it will be to keep the federal government from unduly burdening Oklahomans and Oklahoma businesses.”

In his election campaign, Pruitt used “battle” metaphors to describe his “activist” role and that of his new federalism office:

“I will establish an Office of Federalism with the Attorney General's office. I will assign attorneys in the A.G.'s office whose primary responsibility is to determine how the office can and should push back against Washington. Whether its [sic] related to property rights, the right to keep and bear arms, the right to educate our children, or related to the first amendment, the attorney general must have resources and leaders internal to the office fighting those battles every day.”

On Freedom of Religion

Pruitt campaigned on the basis that he would protect the freedom to exercise one’s religion in the public space. In office, he has made clear that there is only one exception to that rule – Muslims are not welcome to seek to exercise their religion in the public sphere. Pruitt has continued to defend the constitutionality of an Oklahoma law that blatantly singles out Muslim religious tenets for discrimination in a manner that is inescapably unconstitutional under the U.S. and Oklahoma constitutions.

On the National Foreclosure Settlement

Pruitt’s twin objections to the national foreclosure fraud settlement with five massive financial institutions were that it sought reforms to their foreclosure practices to prevent the resumption of the endemic fraud and modestly reduced the principal on some underwater loans to borrowers. He is the perfect embodiment of Confederacy-lite – he runs his office to protect his elite contributors at the expense of Oklahomans.

Of course, he claims that he is doing the opposite – protecting little banks by going after the largest banks that the Obama administration refuses to go after. Indeed, he assertsthat the federal government intentionally destroys small banks through regulation in order to ensure systemically dangerous institutions’ (SDIs) dominance:

“Sixty-eight percent of all money in this country is deposited into seven banks,” Pruitt said. “The regulatory environment is strangling the life out of community banks and I will tell you it’s intentional because the (federal government) can better manage an economy when you have all your money in just seven banks.”

When push came to shove, Pruitt sought to weaken the reforms that the Obama administration (reluctantly) imposed on the gigantic and fraudulent financial institutions. He worked against the interests of small, honest banks. Pruitt stresses that he will sue to force federal government “accountability” but he gives the big banks a pass from criminal liability or even serious civil liability. Candidate profiles of Pruitt reveal the following statements:

“Pruitt has announced that he intends to establish an office to deal with federalism in the attorney general's office with the intention of protecting Oklahoma's rights against federal encroachment. The office would also deal with issues such as federal regulation of health care, financial business and immigration.

"I will look at options to make sure we take whatever steps necessary to hold the federal government accountable," he said.

Pruitt previously announced that he plans on reviewing and taking some sort of action to hold the federal government responsible for securing the border. He said several states have considered such action as an alternative to enacting immigration laws such as those recently passed in Arizona.”

Pruitt may be a new type of attorney general. But he has very old ideas about waging battle against the federal government.



Bill Black is the author of 'The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One' and an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He spent years working on regulatory policy and fraud prevention as Executive Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention, Litigation Director of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and Deputy Director of the National Commission on Financial Institution Reform, Recovery and Enforcement, among other positions. He writes a column for Benzinga every Monday. His other academic articles, congressional testimony, and musings about the financial crisis can be found at his Social Science Research Network author page and at the blog New Economic Perspectives.