Skip to content


James Tierney

  • Juul Labs sought to court AGs as teen vaping surged

    March 9, 2020

    It was a blunt warning about the dangers of youth vaping: Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr announced late last month that his state had joined 38 others to investigate whether Juul Labs, the nation’s largest electronic cigarette company, promoted and sold its nicotine-heavy products to teens. It was a moment Juul had worked to avoid...“It means they’re in a world of hurt,” James Tierney, a former attorney general of Maine who now teaches at Harvard Law School, said of the multistate investigation. “The states are not buying what Juul is selling, and they’re saying, ‘We need to go deeper.’”

  • Nevada Joins Other States In Fight Against E-Cig Maker

    February 26, 2020

    A coalition of 39 states, including Nevada will look into the marketing and sales of vaping products by Juul Labs, including whether the company targeted youths and made misleading claims about nicotine content in its devices, officials announced Tuesday. Attorneys general from Nevada, Connecticut, Florida, Oregon and Texas said they will lead the multi-state investigation into San Francisco-based Juul, which also is facing lawsuits by teenagers and others who say they became addicted to the company’s vaping products. The state officials said they also will investigate the company’s claims about the risk, safety and effectiveness of its vaping products as smoking cessation devices. Juul released a statement saying it has halted television, print and digital advertising and eliminated most flavors in response to concerns by government officials and others...The scope of the investigation by dozens of states leaves Juul with little choice but to change its marketing practices, said James Tierney, a former attorney general of Maine. “When you see these kinds of numbers, it means they’re in a world of hurt,” said Tierney, a lecturer at Harvard Law School. “They can’t seriously litigate this.”

  • States Keep Door Open for Better Antitrust Deal From T-Mobile

    December 3, 2019

    Three states that have recently settled antitrust claims with T-Mobile US Inc. and Sprint Corp. over their $26 billion merger are entitled to additional benefits that might be gained from a broader multistate suit against the companies...More than a dozen states led by New York and California remain part of the multistate suit that asserts combining the No. 3 and No. 4 U.S. carriers will lead to higher consumer prices. The case is scheduled to go to trial Dec. 9 in Manhattan federal court...The side settlements won’t impact the upcoming trial involving 13 states and the District of Columbia, James Tierney, the former Maine attorney general, said. “The judge really isn’t going to care how many states show up to trial as a plaintiff,” Tierney, who is now a lecturer at Harvard Law school, said...For T-Mobile, “the only settlements that really matter at the end of the day are New York and California,” since both states are the key drivers pushing the suit forward, Tierney said.

  • When a state attorney general takes on a national fight, what’s he gunning for?

    November 13, 2019

    When a bipartisan bunch of state attorneys general announced this summer they had cut a deal with phone companies to crack down on infuriating robocalls, Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein of North Carolina led the news conference in Washington...Stein, 53, has inserted himself into nearly every high-profile action that state attorneys general have taken since he started the job in North Carolina in 2017. He is emblematic of a new kind of state attorney general more aggressive, often bipartisan rising to prominence nationwide. What used to be a relatively high-profile position within a state's boundaries has become a springboard for publicity across the country. As politics on the national level becomes more polarized, and with Congress stymied by attention on a presidential impeachment investigation, attention has increasingly turned to the states, where legislatures are primed to act, governors have some real power and attorneys general are stepping up, particularly on consumer issues where the federal government has largely stepped away...Former Maine Attorney General James Tierney, a Democrat who now teaches at Harvard Law School, said fraud "doesn't have a partisan hat" when attorneys general are going after bad actors. But, he said, Stein and other AGs are "not going to get elected or reelected based on what they do on robocalls." They may work across party lines on corporate fraud or consumer protections, but when it comes to election time they usually revert to party positions, he said.

  • Facebook, Google Face Multi-State Antitrust Investigations

    September 10, 2019

    A coalition of state attorneys general launch antitrust probes into Facebook and Google. They tell us why. Guests: Phil Weiser, attorney general from Colorado. Served in the Obama Administration as a deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice. Served in President Clinton’s Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. James Tierney, founding director of, an educational resource on the office of state attorney general. Lecturer in law at Harvard Law School. Attorney General of Maine from 1980 to 1990. Tim Wu, professor of law, science and technology at Columbia Law School. Author of "The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age." Former senior adviser to the Federal Trade Commission for consumer protection and competitions issues that affect the internet and mobile markets. ...

  • Attorneys general ask for veto of Iowa AG power-limits bill

    May 15, 2019

    Current and former attorneys general from both major parties and several states are imploring Iowa's Republican governor to veto a measure meant to prevent the state's attorney general, currently a Democrat, from being able to file or join lawsuits challenging Trump administration policies. Iowa would be the only state with such limits on the power of an independently elected attorney general if Gov. Kim Reynolds signs off on the bill, which would require the attorney general to get the permission of the governor, Legislature or state executive council, which includes the governor and other statewide elected officials, to file any out-of-state court action. "There is no question that Iowa would be the only state that has done this to itself, and that the only losers are the people of Iowa," said Jim Tierney, a Harvard Law School lecturer who served as Maine attorney general from 1980 to 1990.

  • Multi-state lawsuits against Trump in 2 years exceed those against Obama, Bush in 8 years

    April 10, 2019

    President Donald Trump had high praise for the nation’s attorneys general when he invited them to the State Dining room in March. “You are very special people and doing a very special and important job,” Trump told the gathering. Increasingly, however, their job is suing Trump. ... But it’s the partisan lawsuits against presidential administrations that are the biggest departure from the past. One reason, says former Maine Attorney General James Tierney, stems from a 2007 Supreme Court decision siding with Massachusetts and 11 other states against the EPA. The states successfully argued that the EPA is required to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants.

  • The Law and the Digital World 1

    The Law and the Digital World

    April 3, 2019

    Officials from 23 offices of state attorneys general recently met at HLS as part of the Berkman Klein Center’s AGTech Forum series, to discuss tech-driven challenges to privacy and data security that vex state regulators and threaten consumers, and to strategize on how the law can keep up.

  • The shutdown threatens the promise of government jobs — and a way of life

    January 16, 2019

    Three weeks of no pay and lots of uncertainty has changed how aerospace engineer Robert Sprayberry thinks about his job. He joined the Federal Aviation Administration a decade ago because it promised him a stable career with steady hours. He might not earn as much money as he could in the private sector, but he could be home more to help raise three young children. ... Others are avoiding the federal government from the start. Jim Tierney, who teaches at Harvard Law School, said he’s noticed a spike in interest in his state attorneys general law clinic under Trump. He attributed the change to Trump’s frequent attacks on the federal Justice Department and drastic curtailment at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

  • Facebook sued by US lawyer over Cambridge Analytica data scandal

    December 20, 2018

    The attorney general for Washington, DC said on Wednesday the US capital city had sued Facebook Inc for allegedly misleading users about how it safeguarded their personal data, in the latest fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. ... State attorneys general from both major US political parties have stepped up their enforcement of privacy laws in recent years, said James Tierney, a lecturer at Harvard Law School and Maine’s former attorney general.

  • Corruption-fighting AG? Easy to say, harder to do

    October 30, 2018

    Come election time, it's popular for Illinois Republicans and Democrats, when political circumstances suit them, to clamor for the state's top lawyer to investigate corruption—almost always, to no avail...Yet candidates often cannot resist taking up the cudgel of anti-corruption, sometimes identifying their targets by name. "If I say, 'Elect me and I'll go after Donald Trump or Speaker (Mike) Madigan or Jared Kushner,' anyone who says that is absolutely wrong," said James Tierney, former attorney general of Maine and now a lecturer at Harvard Law School. "That is the opposite of what our criminal justice system is supposed to be about."

  • With Schneiderman Out, Environmental Fight Loses a Prominent Voice

    May 10, 2018

    Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general who resigned this week after four women accused him of assault, was one of the most active state-level opponents of the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations. He was also the first attorney general to open an investigation into Exxon Mobil’s climate policies and statements. Most of Mr. Schneiderman’s environmental initiatives will almost certainly continue without him, in New York and other states. But a prominent figure in the legal fight against climate change has left the arena, and his eventual replacement could set different priorities...James E. Tierney, a former Maine attorney general who teaches a course on the role of state attorneys general at Harvard Law School, said that unless the transition from one attorney general to another involves a change of political party, lawsuits tend to continue and similar ones tend to be filed...In the wake of scandal, the shock to staff members is keenly felt, but “after a day, the assistant A. G.s will get back to work,” Mr. Tierney said. In fact, he said, cases might proceed more smoothly without Mr. Schneiderman, whose tendency to garner publicity for himself could be a distraction.

  • Eric Schneiderman Set Himself Up as Trump’s Foil. What Happens Now?

    May 9, 2018

    For the last 17 months, Eric T. Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York, had held himself up as the anti-Trump: a one-man legal wrecking ball, taking on the president and his agenda in both the courts and the court of public opinion. His sudden and spectacular downfall — Mr. Schneiderman announced his resignation hours after four women emerged to describe in detail how he had physically assaulted them — has raised questions of whether a powerful office at the heart of the Democratic legal resistance could be sidelined and besmirched by scandal...Even though Mr. Schneiderman has often served as the public face of the sprawling legal battles against Mr. Trump, Mr. Rankin said that his organization had already devised a strategy to share responsibility for the various lawsuits against the president’s policies...“Nothing is going to change,” predicted James E. Tierney, a former attorney general of Maine who is now a lecturer at Harvard Law School. “No change — zero.”

  • How Supreme Court’s Internet Tax Case Was Built ‘From the Ground Up’

    March 17, 2018

    Most U.S. Supreme Court cases are born the old-fashioned way: an aggrieved party goes to a lawyer to appeal a lower court decision, and the lawyer petitions the court. But the high-profile case of South Dakota v. Wayfair, involving state taxation of online retail sales, unfolded in a very different way. Lawyers sought out the clients—states, in this case—who were willing to lose below so they could potentially win before the Supreme Court...But is it improper or even unusual for states to pass contrarian laws aimed at forcing the Supreme Court to confront and rethink its own precedents? “It happens all the time,” said former Maine Attorney General James Tierney, now a Harvard Law School lecturer who advises state attorneys general. Tierney did not want to comment on the Wayfair case specifically, but said that in general, it is not uncommon for states to pass laws they know would be tested at the Supreme Court. State laws on abortion rights and immigration, for example, have been passed in defiance of court precedents, Tierney noted.

  • Illinois Attorney General Candidates Detail Plans For Police Oversight

    February 5, 2018

    Police accountability has been a huge issue in Chicago, but has been virtually ignored in the suburbs. The next Illinois Attorney General could change that. “You can’t be an attorney general … without paying serious attention to the quality of criminal justice in your state. It’s probably your prime responsibility,” said former Maine attorney general James Tierney, a Harvard Law School lecturer. In Chicago, outgoing Attorney General Lisa Madigan has sued the city in an attempt to force federal oversight of police reform efforts. But how to reform police departments outside the city’s borders remains a question. In an effort to hold those officers more accountable, the candidates vying to be the next attorney general have pledged to file federal lawsuits, investigate corruption, and push legislation.

  • After Defeat in New York, State AGs Are Next to Test Emoluments Challenge

    January 25, 2018

    Litigants claiming that President Donald Trump’s business empire violates the Constitution suffered a major loss in federal court in New York last year, but on Thursday, they’ll get another chance. Lawyers for the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia, Brian Frosh and Karl Racine, respectively, will argue before a federal judge in Greenbelt, Maryland, that Trump is violating two clauses in the Constitution designed to prevent corruption: the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments clauses...“I think the AGs are the only plaintiffs who have a shot at standing,” said James Tierney, a former Democratic attorney general from Maine, and a lecturer at Harvard Law School. That’s because, he explained, states have unique standing to challenge the federal government.

  • It’s Time To Take On Big Opioid Like We Did With Big Tobacco

    January 11, 2018

    An op-ed by James Tierney. The unchecked flood of opioids into our country has caused unspeakable damage, and the companies that manufacture them will inevitably be held accountable. When that moment comes, it is vital that we avoid the mistakes made in our attempts to hold Big Tobacco accountable. I helped coordinate the tobacco lawsuits of the 1990s, which ended with a giant settlement deal that would cost cigarette makers more than $200 billion and require major changes to the industry. But much of that money was wasted, and countless people have died as a result. We can’t let that happen again, and now is the time to start talking about what a Big Tobacco–style national settlement with Big Opioid should look like — and to demand nothing less from our state and federal leaders.

  • For California attorney general, suing Trump again and again is a team sport

    December 1, 2017

    For a man who has alternatively been called the face, the leader, and the speartip of the progressive “resistance” to the Trump administration, Xavier Becerra seems comfortable working outside the spotlight. When Gov. Jerry Brown tapped Becerra to replace U.S. Senate-bound Kamala Harris as California’s attorney general, the 59-year-old congressman came with more than two decades of experience cutting deals and building coalitions as a high-ranking, but...little-known representative...Former Maine Attorney General James Tierney, for one, says Becerra has demonstrated national leadership “even in cases where his name is not in the headlines.” The skills that he developed in the House, building consensus and holding a caucus together, seem to have served Becerra in building ties with attorneys general in other states, said Tierney, a lecturer at Harvard Law School who teaches a class on the role of attorneys general. “He knew from his congressional experience that everybody counts.”

  • State AGs Used to Play Nice in Elections. Not Anymore.

    November 16, 2017

    State attorneys general have operated in an increasingly partisan manner in recent years -- both in terms of how they campaign and what cases they pursue. State AGs have a long history of working together in a bipartisan fashion -- pursuing consumer cases, for example, that affect people across state lines. That still happens. But now, incumbent AGs are targeting their peers in other states in a way they've never done before...Now that Donald Trump is president, it's Democratic AGs who are regularly suing the administration over issues such as immigration and the environment. The homepage for the Democratic Attorneys General Association boldly states: "Democratic Attorneys General are the first line of defense against the new administration." "All the Democrats are pretty well lined up on these Trump investigations," says Jim Tierney, who runs a program on AGs at Harvard Law School. "The presumption is that everyone will be in on the Democratic side."

  • State Attorneys General Lead the Charge Against President Donald Trump

    October 27, 2017

    There are 194 Democrats in the House, and another 46 Democrats in the Senate. But since Donald Trump took office, 22 state attorneys general have played among the most pivotal roles slowing and stopping the march of the Trump agenda. Nineteen state AGs sued to stop the administration from withholding Obamacare subsidies from states, 16 to halt the rollback of environmental regulations, and 20 to reverse its decision to rescind a program that had protected young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children from deportation..."The more AGs act like congressmen, the more they'll be treated like congressmen," says James Tierney, a former Democratic attorney general of Maine and a lecturer at Harvard Law School who's carved a niche consulting both Republican and Democratic AGs and studying the office he once held. "It's endangering the very function of attorney general."

  • Silicon Valley Courts Brand-Name Teachers, Raising Ethics Issues

    September 5, 2017

    ...Public-school teachers who accept perks, meals or anything of value in exchange for using a company’s products in their classrooms could also run afoul of school district ethics policies or state laws regulating government employees. “Any time you are paying a public employee to promote a product in the public classroom without transparency, then that’s problematic,” said James E. Tierney, a former attorney general of Maine who is a lecturer at Harvard Law School. “Should attorneys general be concerned about this practice? The answer is yes.”