Acting Attorney General declares Justice Department won’t defend Trump’s immigration order
Acting Attorney General Sally Yates has ordered Justice Department lawyers not to defend challenges to President Trump’s immigration order temporarily banning entry into the United States for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees from around the world, declaring in a memo Monday she is not convinced the order is lawful.
Yates wrote that, as the leader of the Justice Department, she must ensure the department’s position is both “legally defensible” and “consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right.
“At present, 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,” Yates wrote. She wrote that “for as long as I am the Acting Attorney General, 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.”
Yates’s view is perhaps unsurprising; she was second-in-command at the Justice Department under President Obama, held over until a new attorney general can be confirmed. Still, her announcement is remarkable for its defiance. It was not immediately clear who would defend the president’s order in the Justice Department’s place.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday on President Trump’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), whose views align much more closely with the president’s.
Meanwhile, President Trump continued on Monday to adamantly defend his order, despite mounting criticism, legal challenges and questions that stretched from Capitol Hill to the United Nations.
Trump’s order has sparked protests from coast to coast, court cases challenging its constitutionality, unease in cities worldwide and a host of questions about the limits of its scope. Even as the White House remained defiant, former president Barack Obama became the latest high-profile voice to weigh in on the issue, offering his first public criticism of his successor while backing protesters.
The ban’s impact continued to reverberate around the world. The United Nations said that some 20,000 refugees could be affected by the 120-day suspension of refugee admission. Lawyers sought to confirm how many people remain detained in the United States, while a lawsuit argued that dozens of people may have been forced to give up their green cards by Customs and Border Protection agents.