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FLASHBACK: Sen. Sessions Asks Sally Yates If Attorney General Should Resist President’s Unlawful Policies


Was there any way to predict Sally Yates’ refusal to defend Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration? Um, yes. Senator Jeff Sessions asked Yates an appropriate question during her 2015 confirmation hearing for Deputy Attorney General. (This is the same Sessions that Trump has nominated to become the new Attorney General, by the way). He pressed her on whether high-ranking Justice Department officials have an obligation to fulfill the president’s policies, even if those goals are unlawful.

“Senator, I believe that the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution, and to give their independent legal advice to the president,” she said.

Yates, a holdover from the Obama Administration, served as Acting Attorney General until yesterday. That’s when she announced her refusal to defend Trump’s executive order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries. She said she wasn’t convinced the policy was lawful. For her trouble, she got replaced with U.S. attorney Dana Boente. columnist Chris White criticized her Monday for overreaching her authority.

With this statement, Sally Yates declared herself the arbiter of not just what is right vs. wrong, but what is constitutional vs. unconstitutional. The latter part being in direct conflict with her role in the Executive Branch, which is to enforce the laws. In other words, Yates seemed to forget our founders gave us three co-equal branches of government. It is the Judicial Branch, not the Executive Branch that decides what is constitutional.

The president’s EO has had a short but fraught history in the courts. It was signed on Friday, but five different federal courts have already issued partial stays. Critics have attacked the policy for acting as a ban of people based on their religious faith. Trump has denied that this is the case, but he did call for an outright Muslim ban back in December, 2015.

[Screengrab via NBC News]

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