Federalism on Trial: State Attorneys General and National Policymaking in Contemporary America, Paul Nolette

Reviewed by Margaret H. Lemos



Paul Nolette has written a must-read book for anyone who is interested in the role that state attorneys general (AGs) play in today’s policy battles. AGs grabbed the national spotlight in the 1990s when they banded together to take on Big Tobacco. As Nolette shows in Federalism on Trial, the tobacco lawsuits were only the beginning. Drawing together rich materials on the interactions between Congress, administrative agencies, regulated parties, interest groups, and AGs, Nolette demonstrates how coordinated AG litigation has shaped policy on topics ranging from pharmaceutical pricing to climate change.

Nolette explains that “[t]he backdrop for contemporary AG activism . . . has been two key developments . . . since the latter half of the twentieth century: the increased importance of both states and litigation in the process of policy implementation” (p. 200). As the term “activism” suggests, Nolette’s perspective is decidedly critical, and his critique tracks the twin developments he highlights. Thus, part of it focuses on federalism, part of it on litigation.

Nolette presents AG litigation as a perversion of federalism because AGs are seeking to expand or modify national policy rather than block it. For Nolette, “[t]his complicates the standard conception of intergovernmental conflict, which typical

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