Bench Memos

Politics & Policy

State AG Monitor: What Happened to Patrick Morrisey?

Then-Republican senate nominee Patrick Morrisey speaks to supporters ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, in Beckley, W.Va., November 5, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

State attorneys general swear an oath. It’s not to trial lawyers. Not to woke companies. Not to any special interest. They swear an oath to the Constitution. And over the last decade, the country’s conservative AGs have lived up to that oath by serving as indispensable leaders in the fight for the rule of law.

That is why it has been an honor to support the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), but also why it is so sad to watch as some of the current AGs drift to the left, or bend over backwards to appease woke companies. This will be the first in an ongoing series of “State AG Monitor” posts designed to monitor that trend and expose the worst actors. We will also highlight the actions of AGs who take bold stands for the rule of law and constitutionalism, as we did in our recent post praising Alabama AG Steve Marshall.

Today, we highlight West Virginia attorney general Patrick Morrisey.

Morrisey burst onto the political scene during the Obama administration helping to lead the charge against unconstitutional federal overreach. Now, he seems to be falling into the worst habits of the political swamp.

Perhaps no case better illustrates General Morrisey’s first term as attorney general than West Virginia v. EPA, in which he took the lead against the “Clean Power Plan,” the Obama-era version of the Green New Deal. And he rode his reputation as a champion for the rule of law all the way to the cusp of the United States Senate, falling just shy of becoming another key Republican vote in that body.

That seems to be where General Morrisey lost his way.

Starting in 2019, Morrisey adopted the strained legal theories that progressive climate activists and anti-gun groups have long used in their efforts to shut down the energy and firearm industries: public nuisance claims against companies that sell legal, regulated products.

It goes without saying that the opioid crisis has taken too many lives and destroyed communities across the country, and that legitimate wrongdoing should be pursued. But Morrisey doesn’t seem satisfied to pursue genuine wrongdoing.

Morrisey initially filed dubious claims against opioid manufacturers and wholesale distributors. More recently, he decided to stretch his discredited legal theories to the max by lobbing them against pharmacies such as Rite Aid, Walgreens, and Walmart, claiming that they too were liable. He went so far as to allege that these pharmacies were liable because they dispensed opioids to customers, even though they did so when filling valid prescriptions written by doctors who were registered by the DEA, licensed by the state of West Virginia, and often approved by the state-run Medicaid or federal Medicare programs. And at every step of Morrisey’s public-nuisance odyssey, he has brought along his ambulance-chasing pals at Motley Rice.

Motley Rice may be a law firm, but looking under the hood reveals something more like a high-powered, left-wing political-influence shop. The firm and its employees gave over $2.5 million to federal PACs, committees, and candidates from 2017–2020. That is more than $25,000 per lawyer, before even considering state-specific political committees or races like governor or attorney general. That is a staggering per-lawyer sum that puts Motley Rice up there with D.C.’s most famous influence operations; just consider that Perkins Coie, the law firm of choice for the Democratic National Committee, gave at one-tenth the per-lawyer rate at which Motley Rice gave from 2017–2020.

And Motley Rice has a funny habit of funding exactly the causes that Morrisey would have never aligned himself with when he entered office in 2012. Part of Motley Rice’s immense political generosity goes to the main trial lawyers’ political arm, American Association for Justice PAC, which in the last four-year cycle sent quarter-million-dollar-plus donations to some of the largest left-wing groups, including pro-abortion super PAC Emily’s List, Eric Holder’s Democratic Redistricting Committee, and Priorities USA Action Fund, a leading Super PAC that was recently flagged by Bloomberg as being one of the hubs through which a record amount of liberal dark money flowed to support Biden during the last election.

And Motley Rice also puts money into a web of trial lawyer committees focused squarely on boosting the prospects of Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and his candidates across the country. For starters, Senate Majority PAC, a Schumer-aligned super PAC, received at least $2 million from American Association for Justice PAC during the last four-year election cycle. And then there is Truth and Justice Fund Company, a trial lawyer outfit that spent $1.5 million backing Steve Bullock in Montana and the now-infamous Cal Cunningham in North Carolina during the 2020 election. And we shouldn’t forget Justice 2018 and Justice 2020 — two other trial lawyer-funded political committees — that separately sent seven figures of support to Democratic Senate candidates across the country, backing Democrats and hitting Republicans in Georgia, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, and beyond.

Morrisey knows that he is teaming up with the left. That is why he has been trying to hide the involvement of certain contract lawyers by launching his public-nuisance suits with only lawyers from his office on the pleadings, only to come back a few weeks later and make all the required declarations necessary to hire liberal lawyers and formally put them on the case.

But hiding your left-wing, trial-lawyer friends from the brightest media lights doesn’t change the fact that they show up in all the cases and have a long line of state contracts guaranteeing them multi-million-dollar paydays from any settlement or victory. And Morrisey surely knows that you can fight the opioid epidemic without getting into bed with the radical left’s legal theories and lawyers. He led a pathbreaking investigation into the Obama administration’s failure to properly manage the DEA’s National Drug Quota System. And he sued the DEA over their failures, which helped force a transformative rewrite of the DEA’s opioid distribution quotas in 2018.

It is sad to see once-promising politicians such as Morrisey fall like this, because we need principled leaders, and especially principled attorneys general, more than ever. The Biden administration and its liberal dark-money allies are applying a full-court press in support of a radical agenda. Conservative voters know that only principled, independent leaders will be able to buck the political swamp and refuse to drift to the left. And if AGs like Morrisey can’t resist the siren song of the Left, then conservatives will grow tired of them, just as they grew tired of watching Republican-appointed judges shift left over time on bedrock issues.

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