On Monday, US President Donald Trump fired acting attorney general Sally Yates for defying his executive order on immigration. Yates had said on Monday that the justice department would not defend the order against court challenges, saying that she did not believe it would be “consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right.”
But should Yates’ actions have been a surprise to anyone? At her confirmation hearing as deputy attorney general in 2015, she was asked by Republican senator Jeff Sessions (that’s right, the same Sessions who is now Trump’s nominee for attorney general) what an attorney general should do if they thought the president’s wishes did not uphold the constitution or national law and were improper. “You have to watch out,” Sessions had said, clearly supporting an answer in a certain direction, “sometimes people are going to ask you to do things you need to say no about.”
“Senator, I believe 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,” Yates replied.
While this was seen as the right answer at her confirmation, it seems the Trump administration has a different view on how independent the country’s institutions should (not) be, leading to Yates losing her job because of a value she had announced two years ago. Maybe it’s time someone gave the president a lesson on constitutional principles.