President Trump’s executive order blocking entry into the United States of citizens of seven nations has created chaos at airports around the world, as Iraqis with green cards, visas, and airplane tickets were suddenly not allowed to get on flights or to go through passport controls, leading to people being trapped in airports and demonstrations breaking out worldwide.
The chaos also broke out within our government: The acting attorney general said the Justice Department will not defend the president’s executive order in court, despite the many legal challenges that have been filed. How could she do that? Because President Trump’s nominee for attorney general has not been conferred. So the Justice Department, including the acting attorney general, remain in the hands of Obama appointees! So President Trump has fired her.
Meanwhile, even those who agree with the president’s immigration policy are saying that the roll-out was bungled. The implementation of the policy needed to be thought through more and planned, with border officials given clear instruction as to what to do. Some aspects have been adjusted–green card holders, who by definition are “legal” residents, will be let through, as will dual citizens of certain allied countries, and immigrants who helped the U.S. military. But the way the policy was implemented shows the inexperience of the new administration.
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.
Illustration: George Creal, Creative Commons License