Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office today rejected a demand from the chairmen of two U.S. House Ways and Means subcommittees to provide confidential documents and information related to a letter the attorney general sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last year, urging repeal of an unlawful Obama-era rule on child welfare funding that harms children and families by limiting adoption agencies’ access to public resources based on the religious beliefs of agency employees. The attorney general rejected the House subcommittees demands because the Subcommittee’s attempt to exercise control over core state functions violates constitutional principles of federalism. 

In a letter to U.S. Reps. John Lewis and Danny Davis, Texas First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer explained that Texas is not a subdivision of the federal government, but operates as a dual sovereign within the Union. The Supreme Court has recognized that preserving comity between the federal and state governments is a core value of our Constitution and Congress lacks the power to oversee a State’s exercise of its sovereign functions.

“Congress may use its spending power to encourage a State to adopt federal programs.  That power, however, does not give a Congressional subcommittee authority to oversee a State’s exercise of a core sovereign function in determining whether that program has created a legal dispute between the State and the United States government,” First Assistant Attorney General Mateer wrote in the letter. “Nor does it give Congress authority to oversee a State’s decision to challenge such a rule solely because the State disagrees with a massive shift in federal agency policy governing the program without any underlying change in federal law.”

The letter also notes the Supreme Court has clearly stated that Congress is not “a law enforcement or trial agency” and cannot investigate “solely for the personal aggrandizement of the investigators or to ‘punish’ those investigated.” First Assistant Mateer directed the Subcommittee to submit a public records request for non-privileged documents outside of the scope of potential litigation.

View a copy of the letter here.