In another blow for the Trump administration, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates has ordered the Department of Justice not to defend Donald Trump’s recent immigration ban, saying she “isn’t convinced that the executive order is lawful.”
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) January 30, 2017
In a letter to the Justice Department, Yates wrote: “I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right.”
“At present,” she added, “I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful.”
Unfortunately, Yates is a holdover from the Obama administration and will only be serving until Trump’s attorney general nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, is confirmed. Her decision to take a tough stance against the new president’s unpopular ban is likely to renew calls by Democrats to hold up the Sessions confirmation process as long as possible – even though Sessions is ultimately likely to be approved.
It’s also likely to motivate Republicans to push through Sessions’ confirmation as quickly as possible – or even fire Yates immediately, which Trump has the power to do.
The problem with forcing her to resign before confirming her replacement, as the New York Times notes, is that “she is the only one authorized to sign foreign surveillance warrants, an essential function at the department.”
Still, for the short time Yates has left as acting attorney general, Americans can find some comfort in knowing that their Department of Justice will not be defending Trump’s ban.
“For as long as I am the acting attorney general,” Yates wrote, “The Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the executive order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so.”