Acting Attorney General Sally Yates ordered the Department of Justice on Monday not to defend President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily barring visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
“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,” Yates wrote in a letter to Justice Department lawyers as quoted by the New York Times.
CNN also reported that Yates told Justice Department lawyers not to defend the order.
“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,” she wrote as quoted in the New York Times report. “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 is a holdover from President Barack Obama’s administration and will be replaced by Trump’s nominee for attorney general, so the decision is largely symbolic but highlights internal divisions in the government over the order.
On Sunday, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) announced that she will introduce two pieces of legislation to combat the order, joining other Democrats who have said they will propose legislation to undo it.
On Monday afternoon, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced that he is filing a federal lawsuit to seek an immediate halt to implementation of the order and have sections of it declared unconstitutional.
The odds are long that legislation to combat the order would ever make it to Trump’s desk, and it is unlikely that the order will be defeated on religious discrimination grounds, according to constitutional law experts.
Republicans as well as Democrats have been critical of the order, however.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) said in an interview Sunday that President Donald Trump’s executive order to implement “new vetting measures” was itself “not properly vetted.”
And on Monday evening, Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Corker (R-TN) said that Congress “might” step in to address lawmakers’ concerns about the order if Trump doesn’t clear up its “misfire.”