Meet RAGA—One of the Scariest GOP Groups You’ve Never Heard Of

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May 13, 2024

The Republican Attorney Generals Association is waging a legal war to overturn reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and climate regulations, one state at a time.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (C) talks to reporters with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (2nd L), both active members of the Republican Attorneys General Association. ( Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

If you sit down and talk with Republicans, which I advise against doing, you will notice that they justify nearly every one of their awful policies with a call to states’ rights. They say they want to take power away from national representatives in Washington, D.C., and redistribute it to state and local governments, which, they claim, are best equipped to determine the best policies for their constituents’ particular, parochial concerns. They use this appeal to “federalism” to shield them from moral accountability for their disastrous actions. Republicans will say, for instance, that their intention is not to take away abortion rights but merely to let the states decide when a person can be forced to give birth against their will.

They are lying, of course. We know this because whenever Republicans get the power to impose their views by national fiat, they happily do so, states’ rights be damned. Republicans are for local control right up until a local prosecutor declines to deport an immigrant or a city council decides to ban assault weapons.

Still, “states’ rights” remains their battle cry, and few things expose the full measure of their antipathy toward democratic norms and civil rights than what they do with the power they’ve given to the states.

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Most people are aware of the horrors that await when Republicans take control of statehouses and governors’ mansions. For recent examples, consider Greg Abbott’s murder moat in Texas, or Glenn Youngkin’s crusade against abortion rights and Pornhub in Virginia. Fewer, however, recognize the horrors that lie in store when Republicans commandeer the machinery of the law. Put simply, whichever rights the Supreme Court does not succeed in obliterating, Republican-controlled state courts and Republican attorneys general eagerly chisel away, state by state.

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Republican AGs play the critical role. They are the people who, under their own authority, can bend the law to their will and weaponize it against vulnerable communities. There are currently 27 of them, and they include future Newsmax hosts like Kansas AG Kris Kobach, who finds his joy in suing to stop Joe Biden’s student debt relief program; Florida AG Ashley Moody, who spends her days fighting whatever “wokeness” conspiracy exists in her head at any given moment; and Texas AG Ken Paxton, who has effectively decided to make up his own immigration laws and enforce them at the point of a gun.

Republicans realized long ago that state AGs represent the steel gauntlet inside the velvet glove of states’ rights. They also realized that they needed an organization to help them make that vision real, so in 1999 they created one: the Republican Attorneys General Association. Much like the Democratic National Committee or the Republican National Committee or any number of partisan-affiliated outfits, RAGA identifies candidates, supports their efforts to win elections, and imposes national Republican priorities at the state level—though that’s far from all it does. The association sees its mission as “Defending the Rule of Law. Keeping America Safe” and hails itself as “America’s last line of defense.” You’d think that means keeping states safe from criminals and fraudsters, but in most cases RAGA AGs think they’re “defending” us from transgender kids who need to use the bathroom or Uber drivers who take people across state lines to get abortions.

RAGA prosecutors share a hatred of reproductive rights, a love of guns, and an obsession with persecuting the LGBTQ community. You probably didn’t need me to tell you that, though: Hating women and gay people while using a .450 Bushmaster as a masculinity supplement when the testicle tanning wears off is simply standard GOP operating procedure these days. But RAGA AGs are also committed to doing the dirty work for every other hellish Republican policy idea, from destroying the environment to gutting voting rights to undermining vaccines, because apparently states need “defending” from science, facts, and public health.

No matter what awful thing they’re doing, the AGs always have enough money to do it. RAGA is incredibly well-funded. Federalist Society Svengali Leonard Leo is a donor, as are all the usual GOP donor-class supervillains, including Koch Industries, the National Rifle Association, the American Petroleum Institute, and a bunch of corporations, from ExxonMobil to CVS.

In exchange for this largesse, these corporations get more than one-off lawsuits or the occasional friendly AG. Beyond backing individual officials, RAGA is involved with bigger, broader strategies. RAGA attorneys general work hand-in-hand with preferred Trump judges to shape our national laws through targeted cases designed for appellate and eventually Supreme Court review. They make rulings that trigger nationwide injunctions. In recent months, RAGA AGs in 19 states have asserted their right to get access to the private medical records of patients seeking care out of state—most likely so they can be prosecuted for receiving an abortion when they come back home. In 13 states, RAGA AGs have threatened to sue companies over their diversity and inclusion programs.

Most of the time, the law is hiding in shadows, obscured under thick layers of jargon and confusing rules of procedure. But RAGA attorneys general are not trying to hide the ball. They’re proud of their work. These people are elected officials (many with ambitions for higher office), so when they menace a vulnerable community, they want you to know about it.

This also means that they can be defeated. Most of these AGs are not appointed to their post or protected by lifetime tenure, as Supreme Court justices are; they are exposed to the will of the people. So if people would just pay attention to what they’re doing, they can be removed from power. There are 10 state AG elections this November, including absolutely critical races in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, as well as important races in Indiana, Missouri, and West Virginia, where voting for the RAGA AG could lead to the criminalization of pregnant people seeking reproductive care even in other states.

Whenever you hear of “states’ rights,” you should think of RAGA and remember that in 27 places, states are where rights go to die. Republicans have a national plan to change the law one state at a time.

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Elie Mystal



Elie Mystal is The Nation’s justice correspondent and the host of its legal podcast, Contempt of Court. He is also an Alfred Knobler Fellow at the Type Media Center. His first book is the New York Times bestseller Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution, published by The New Press. Elie can be followed @ElieNYC.

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