The crowd that turned out to hear Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson speak on Tuesday filled the auditorium at Western Washington University’s Miller Hall. Event staff reminded those standing on the sides that there was an overflow room with TVs in a nearby building, but pretty soon, it was full, too.
And when Ferguson finished his talk about how he sued President Donald Trump’s administration in February over a controversial travel ban, many lined up to shake Ferguson’s hand and say thanks for his work. Some took selfies; others asked for autographs.
The uncanny popularity for a state attorney general isn’t lost on Ferguson, but he doesn’t revel in it.
“It’s not something I think about much,” he said after the crowd dispersed and the line of fans came to an end. “But it’s true the case has generated tremendous interest, and I appreciate that.”
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The hour-long talk, hosted by WWU’s Political Science Department, was one of several appearances Ferguson made in Bellingham Tuesday, in addition to class talks on the Western campus. He also met with LAW Advocates, an organization that gives free legal assistance to low-income residents.
Ferguson’s lawsuit in late January took aim at the constitutionality of Trump’s executive order that banned travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and sought to have the ban lifted immediately. The ban was blocked days after the filing, handing Trump one of his first defeats after taking office, and launched Ferguson into the national spotlight.
The decision to file the lawsuit came down to three questions, Ferguson said: Does Trump’s ban harm Washingtonians? Does Ferguson’s office have good arguments? And does it have standing? Ferguson and his office’s civil rights unit determined the answer to all three was yes.
Because Trump’s executive order was signed on a Friday, Ferguson’s civil rights unit spent the weekend drafting the argument, he said, highlighting violations of clauses in the First and Fifth amendments and several statutes.
Ferguson’s staff had the argument filed three days after Trump signed the executive order. Four days after that, a federal judge granted the injunction. The Trump administration immediately appealed the decision, but a panel of judges in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld it.
Ferguson recognized the risk in his approach. Other states had opted to instead focus on cases that individual plaintiffs had filed. An internationally ranked chess master, Ferguson used the game to explain why he took that risk.
“If I thought my best chance to win was to go into that position, well, you do it,” he said.
The first question after Ferguson’s talk asked what kind of chess player he thought Trump is. “Too impulsive,” he said.
Another attendee asked if he thought the Trump administration attorneys were unprepared after they appealed the decision. As someone who’s had weeks to prepare for a case and still made mistakes, Ferguson said, he couldn’t criticize them.
But he left no doubt about a question he’s often been asked during his rise to prominence – whether he’ll run for governor.
“When I first ran for attorney general in 2012, I would often say to groups that I thought the attorney general was the most consequential office in all of government, and people always gave me a funny look,” Ferguson said.
“When I say that now, nobody gives me a funny look.”