Donald Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for ordering Justice Department lawyers to stop defending Trump’s #MuslimBan executive order. Yates had announced in a January 30 letter to Justice Department lawyers that
My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts. In addition, 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, 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.
Consequently, 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.
A furious Trump claimed that Yates had “betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.” The president claimed Yates had determined that the executive order was indefensible for political reasons, arguing that “Ms. Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.”
Trump found an acting attorney general who would take the case into the courts, and now he has an attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who will presumably continue to do the president’s bidding.
But Trump’s power play did not settle the matter. There remained the question of who was right about the merits of the president’s case: Sally Yates, the veteran Justice Department lawyer who spoke at her US Senate confirmation hearing about an “obligation to follow the law and the Constitution”? Or Donald Trump, the non-lawyer who claimed Yates was a political hack?
Now we have an answer. A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously rejected the Trump administration’s pleas that the travel ban be allowed take effect. Citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries that Trump had tried to bar from entering the United States with last month’s order can continue to travel to this country.
Why? Trump’s lawyers made the case that the president demanded. The judges responded that “the Government has not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of its appeal, nor has it shown that failure to enter a stay would cause irreparable injury, and we therefore deny its emergency motion for a stay.”