“See you in court!” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said to cheers as she stood on the Boston Common on January 21, 2017, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. It was the Women’s March and the birth of a nationwide, women-led opposition to the new administration. For Healey, that day launched a different kind of resistance: a quiet and calculated legal one.
“No one is above the law, even the president of the United States,” Healey told VICE News in a recent interview. Over the past two years, she’s sued to block Trump’s travel ban, keep protections from deportation in place for young immigrants, maintain environmental caps on carbon emissions from power plants, and save parts of the Affordable Care Act, among others.
Those lawsuits, combined, make Healey the female state attorney general who has sued the Trump administration the most. And now, she’s running for re-election, partly on a platform of resistance to the administration.
In a year when more women are running for office than ever before, Healey is using her campaign to fight for other first-time female candidates, like she was in 2014. VICE News caught up with her in between campaign stops for our “She’s Running” series, which has been following the historic wave of women running for office this year.
VICE News: Your opponent has criticized your near-constant lawsuits against President Trump, saying that work is using taxpayer money for political purposes. How do you choose which issues to sue over?
Healey: These actions are illegal and unconstitutional. And my job as attorney general is to enforce the law. No one is above the law, even the president of the United States. These actions also harm Massachusetts’ residences, residents, and our businesses and our economy. So when I sued Donald Trump, it's because I am protecting access to healthcare care, protecting access to contraception, defending clean energy investments made in his state and the more than 100,000 clean energy jobs here in Massachusetts that are at risk because of his policies. When we sue over immigration matters, it's because we've seen in Massachusetts the benefit of the DACA program. We are a global, knowledge-based economy, and we rely on people from other countries being able to come here to study, to do research, to set up and help our life sciences and tech companies. So decisions like the president's travel ban, we needed to fight as a state because they hurt Massachusetts interests.
VICE News: You endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primary. For the upcoming midterms, you’ve endorsed insurgent candidates like Ayanna Pressley. How has your perception of the Democratic party shifted since the 2016 election?
Healey: Well, hopefully there's an awakening and a realization that it can't just be business as usual. There are a lot of people out there all across this country who are concerned about the direction of this country and want to get involved. And they may have felt left out of the political process in the past. They may have felt that that was left to others or that you had to grow up in the political establishment or around politics in order to actually run and win. And the nice thing that has been shattered because people — whether it's because they're fed up or sick and tired of what's happening out there — are just being bold and stepping forward. And that's a really healthy thing for our democracy and certainly for the Democratic Party, which should be embracing more women candidates more candidates of color and people who are going to bring new ideas and new ways forward for not just the party but for this country.
"To think that anybody who is accused of a serious crime like sexual assault would be rushed through and confirmed without a hearing, without an investigation, is wrong."
What does your relationship look like with those female candidates you support?
There's a real bond among women candidates because there is a tremendous amount of sexism and misogyny unfortunately out there in the world, and you see it when you're running because women are judged differently. It's unfortunate, and we need to work to change that, and the way we change that is actually having more women in office. You know that's one of the greatest things that I see when young women come up to me and are excited about the fact that I'm in office, and Ayanna Pressley just got elected. You know, they see something. And that helps them believe something and believe that they can run for office, believe that they can hold the seat. And that's what we need in terms of a developing energy and understanding out there.
I remember a while back when I was in a classroom meeting kids in second grade, and we talked about my job and what I did. And they understood the office and then as soon as a man with a suit walked into the classroom a little boy put his hand up and said, "Is he your boss?" And I knew in that moment that we still have so much work to do around unconscious bias.
You’re suing Purdue Pharma for their role in the opioid crisis. Can you explain why you think a drug company like Purdue is to blame?
I sued Purdue Pharma and its board members and executives — and I think I'm still the only attorney general in the country to actually name board members and Purdue executives — because they knew and understood the impact that these drugs could have on communities, and they knew what was happening in terms of the prescribing rates and then the overdosing rates. They knew that this was a drug that was highly addictive and, nevertheless, continued to market it and sell it into our communities. They laid the groundwork and set the circumstances for a devastating public health crisis an epidemic.
That's part of my job as attorney general, to take action to protect public safety, to protect public health and to protect consumers and workers and students and the like. That's just an example of what it means to be the people's lawyer when you have so many people in crisis and so many people who have been damaged.
The decision this year upholding the assault weapons ban in Massachusetts and finding that AR-15s fall outside the scope of the Second Amendment gave gun control advocates a lot of hope. What’s the status of the other lawsuits you’re involved in defending the ban?
I've been clear that my job is to protect public safety and enforce the laws that are on the books. Massachusetts has the lowest gun death rate in the country because we have strong laws and because we are going to enforce them. The NRA has challenged any number of our laws so far. We beat them every day, every time in court.
Every day in this country nearly 100 people are going to be killed by a gun, another 200 more will be injured. That's a public health issue. In addition to being a public safety issue, there are some common sense things we can do. I don't talk about gun control. I talk about common sense reforms. We really need at the national level, and that's something that I've tried to speak to as a state AG — the need for enforcement of strong laws within our states but then also national solutions that just make common sense.
Over half of the guns that turn up in crimes here in Massachusetts come from other states: Maine and actually Vermont, some of the states in the south. That's why you need some comprehensive measures in place, universal background checks, better tracking of gun sales and data, just some basic measures that again the vast majority of Democrats and Republicans agree on.
If Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, how would you as attorney general protect abortion rights for women in Massachusetts?
Well, that's certainly why these confirmation hearings are so important because I am concerned about that. We cannot continue to go backward in this country as men in states all across the country to try to cut off and further limit access women's access to healthcare. In Massachusetts, I've been clear we're going to stand up for our Constitution which provides a right of privacy and access to reproductive health care for women. We're going to stand up and enforce the laws on the books here that provide for access to reproductive health care. And we're going to continue to stand with and support women as a matter of their own personal autonomy, dignity and privacy.
We're also going to do things like support sexual health education in the state. That's something that we need to do — and just fight efforts to further restrict women because this isn't just a matter of personal privacy and the right of a woman to make decisions for herself. It's also a matter of economics and an economic imperative: The ability of a woman to access the care that she needs, the contraception that she needs, abortion if she needs it, goes directly to her ability to go to school, stay in school, join the workforce, stay in the workforce, have a career, even raise a family.
What concerns you most about Brett Kavanaugh getting a seat on the Supreme Court?
He's being considered for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, a court that is charged with the responsibility of ensuring justice and equal treatment under the law. This man has been accused of a crime, sexual assault, and so far he has not responded to it in a way that it needs to be responded to. There should be a full investigation and a full hearing on this. I admire the courage of Ms. Ford for coming forward and sharing her story which is a very, very hard thing for any survivor to do. But the reporting and the corroborating report that we've seen reported already is terribly disturbing.
I agree with Anita Hill on this. We need to do better than 1991. And this hearing should not be rushed through, and I hope that the Republican senators do what they should do. To think that anybody who is accused of a serious crime like sexual assault would be rushed through and confirmed without a hearing, without an investigation, is wrong.
Editor’s note: Questions and responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Rachel Janfaza contributed research to this report.
Cover image: Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey takes questions from reporters during a news conference in Boston, on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)