Holder, leading a team of attorneys from the firm Covington & Burling, will cover potential conflicts between California and the federal government.

Melanie Mason
January 4, 4016

Bracing for an adversarial relationship with President-elect Donald Trump, the California Legislature has selected former U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. to serve as outside counsel to advise on the state’s legal strategy against the incoming administration.

The unusual arrangement was announced as the Legislature returned to session on Wednesday, underscoring the extent to which the action in Sacramento in the coming months will be shaped by Trump’s presidency.

The agreement will give Holder, leading a team of attorneys from the firm Covington & Burling, a broad portfolio covering potential conflicts between California and the federal government. Former Los Angeles Rep. Howard Berman, a Democrat who is now a senior advisor to the firm, will also be part of the effort.

“[Holder] will be our lead litigator, and he will have a legal team of expert lawyers on the issues of climate change, women and civil rights, the environment, immigration, voting rights — to name just a few,” Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said in an interview.

Such a task typically falls to the state attorney general. On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown formally nominated Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra to replace former Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, who now serves in the U.S. Senate. Becerra, whose nomination hearings in the Legislature begin next week, is expected to be easily confirmed.

A spokesman for Brown declined to weigh in on Holder’s hiring on Wednesday. Becerra could not be reached for comment.

De León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon began contemplating hiring outside legal counsel for the Legislature almost immediately after Trump’s election, in hopes of protecting existing state policies that are at odds with the president-elect’s stated positions. Legislators have already signaled an emphasis on protecting people in the country illegally, proposing legal aid in anticipation of stepped-up deportation action by Trump. They have also indicated that fights are on the horizon over expanded healthcare coverage through the Affordable Care Act and policies to combat climate change, two issues that mark a major departure from Trump’s positions.

“While we don’t yet know the harmful proposals the next administration will put forward, thanks to Donald Trump’s campaign, cabinet appointments and Twitter feed, we do have an idea of what we will be dealing with,” Rendon said in a statement.

“The Covington team will be an important resource as we work with the governor and the attorney general to protect Californians,” he added.

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