In the three years since she has been attorney general, James has filed lawsuits against former President Donald Trump, the NRA and the biggest companies in Silicon Valley.
With her 2018 win for attorney general, Letitia James became the first Black woman to win statewide office in New York. As Public Advocate, a role she fulfilled in New York City, James’ office passed more legislation than all previous Public Advocates combined. Since then, James has made headline after headline for taking on some of the most high-profile people and cases in the country.
In the three years since she has been AG, James has filed lawsuits against former President Donald Trump and the biggest companies in Silicon Valley. Here are some of her current high-profile lawsuits today.
Facebook antitrust lawsuit
In December 2020, James, along with 48 other attorneys general, announced an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, claiming the company has an “illegal monopoly.” The lawsuit claims that Facebook illegally bought-out any competition in a “predatory manner” and cut services to competing smaller companies.
“For nearly a decade, Facebook has used its dominance and monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users,” James said in a statement.
The lawsuit targeted three areas the AGs believed were in violation of state and federal laws: the elimination of competitive alternatives, cutting competitors off the market and the collection of data for ad revenue.
In April 2012, Facebook purchased Instagram, a photo-sharing Social Media App, for US$1 billion, despite the company valuing itself at US$500 million. Two years later, Facebook purchased WhatsApp, a mobile messaging app with over 400 million active users at the time, for US$19 billion. These prices, labeled “extravagant” by the lawsuit, are always massively over the valuation of each company.
The AGs are concerned that the actions taken by Facebook will deter other apps from encroaching on Facebook’s territory. Additionally, it will discourage other investors from creating alternative social media apps, creating a monopoly for the company.
Jennifer Newstead, Facebook’s Vice President and General Counsel, has responded to the allegations laid out by the AGs. She listed a series of competitors, explained that over 200 million businesses use Facebook’s tools to connect with customers and offered a defense of the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp.
“These transactions were intended to provide better products for the people who use them, and they unquestionably did,” she said, adding, “Both of these acquisitions were reviewed by relevant antitrust regulators at the time … Our acquisitions have been good for competition, good for advertisers and good for people.”
In August 2020, James took on one of the largest and most powerful political groups in the country: the National Rifle Association (NRA). She filed a lawsuit against the group, claiming they funneled millions of charitable donations for personal use. The lawsuit called for the chief executive officer of the NRA to resign and for the nonprofit to dissolve.
“The NRA’s influence has been so powerful that the organization went unchecked for decades while top executives funneled millions into their own pockets,” James said in a statement released with the lawsuit. “The NRA is fraught with fraud and abuse, which is why, today, we seek to dissolve the NRA, because no organization is above the law.”
The complaint charges the NRA as a whole, but also charges Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and three other members of the executive board of mismanaging the NRA’s funds and failing to follow state and federal laws.
The lawsuit created a stir in the media and members of the GOP were quick to react.
In December 2020, sixteen Republican attorneys general filed an amicus brief in order to block the lawsuit. The AGs believed James was acting on her political views, stating, “The New York Attorney General cannot be allowed to wield the power of her office to discriminate against the NRA simply because she does not like its members’ political views, advocacy or defense of a constitutional right.”
In a statement to The Hill, James said that the GOP brief would not deter her efforts.
“The NRA has been a breeding ground of fraud, abuse, and brazen illegality. Simply put, the rot runs deep, which is why our lawsuit to dissolve the organization will continue undeterred.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and James were public allies in the 2018 election cycle, though at some cost for the attorney general. In exchange for a public endorsement from Cuomo and access to his donors, James would have to return the endorsement while publicly refusing to support the Working Families Party, the party under which James made her name.
Now, the shoe is seemingly on the other foot. With two separate sexual harassment allegations and accusations of unwanted advances made at a 2019 wedding, Cuomo is under intense scrutiny by the press and politicians alike. Since the allegations went public, Cuomo has faced calls for his resignation. Cuomo has publicly apologized for any behavior that was interpreted as inappropriate while claiming he did not know he was doing anything inappropriate. He has refused to step down.
In response to the allegations, James called for an independent investigation through her office. “Allegations of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously,” she tweeted on February 28. “There must be a truly independent investigation to thoroughly review these troubling allegations against the governor, and I stand ready to oversee that investigation and make any appointments necessary.”
After a back-and-forth between James and Cuomo, the governor has decided to formally refer the case to James’ office. Now, James is in a position to rule in a way that could have potentially catastrophic consequences for Cuomo’s political career.
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