Hawaii taxpayers are facing a legal bill of as much as $150,000 — and maybe more — to underwrite a campaign to topple President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban.
To make its case in court, the state Attorney General’s Office has turned to a high-priced Washington, D.C., law firm where the top partner billing rate is reportedly $1,200 or more.
The good news, according to state Attorney General Doug Chin, is that the firm has offered to cut its rates in half.
Even so, Chin said Thursday it would be unrealistic to think the state won’t be receiving a request for additional money.
The contract with Hogan Lovells and partner Neal Katyal, acting solicitor general of the United States under former President Barack Obama, is capped at $150,000.
“Right now we have not received a bill that has hit the cap,” Chin told the news media in Honolulu on Thursday. “Mr. Katyal and his associates are working at severely reduced rates because it’s important to them as well.”
Chin said it’s not uncommon for his relatively small department to hire outside counsel to obtain the necessary expertise to tackle issues it isn’t particularly expert in, including immigration in this case.
Katyal, who has orally argued over 30 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and is a professor at Georgetown Law, is scheduled to argue on behalf of the state Wednesday for a temporary restraining order blocking Trump’s latest executive order suspending travel to the United States for a few months by nationals of six countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and
He is scheduled to appear electronically from Washington in the U.S. district courtroom of Judge Derrick Watson, as are attorneys representing the U.S. government.
Chin, who might also argue in court Wednesday, said the cost for the extra help is worth it as his appellate division is made up of only four lawyers.
“This isn’t within our bandwidth as a state,” he said of the court challenge. “We’re just not as big as Washington or New York or California or Massachusetts or any of those places.”
Chin said the Hawaii team assigned to the case is “working with little sleep,” while the rest of the department is doing its job representing the people of Hawaii without skipping a beat. He said he continues to attend Cabinet meetings and oversee his staff.
“Nothing is on the back burner,” he said when asked whether other legal matters were being set aside for the effort.
The amended complaint, filed Wednesday, says the ban not only discriminates against Muslims in violation of the Constitution, but it will hurt Hawaii’s tourism, its economy and the ability of university and private businesses to recruit students and employees.
However, Hawaii Republican leaders, including state party Chairman Fritz Rol-fing, said they think the effort is a misguided waste of state money.
“Calling this executive order a ‘Muslim ban’ is totally inaccurate,” Rolfing said in an email. “There is no religious test to enter this country. The six countries raise distinctive concerns about terrorism and cannot or will not adequately supply information on their own nationals.”
Rolfing, a Honolulu attorney, said the executive order is likely going to be upheld eventually, if not by the 9th Circuit Court, then almost certainly by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“There are numerous things our attorney general could be doing to help Hawaii’s citizens than suing the president,” he said.
State Rep. Gene Ward, R-Hawaii Kai, said that while he is sympathetic with the plight of immigrants, he thinks the state is only inciting the Trump administration against Hawaii, a move that will further marginalize the state’s congressional delegation.
“Let’s allow the big states with more resources fight this issue,” Ward said in a press release. “My sense is that the people of Hawaii would rather see potholes fixed rather than trying to lead the nation against an executive order.”
But Chin said he believes the vast majority of Hawaii’s population is behind him.
“Most people get it. They get that this is an argument that we just can’t stand silent on,” he said.
“I believe in this case. I think the courts need to hear from Hawaii,” Chin added. “They need to hear that there’s a state where ethnic diversity is the norm, where people are welcomed with aloha and respect. I believe that argument needs to be front and center.”
Hawaii’s complaint argues, among other things, that the order is a violation of the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.