Sally Yates Gives Us a Lesson on Integrity
Yates, Cruz spar over Trump’s travel ban via CNN
The integrity of the law is at stake in the United States. The recent story of Sally Yates, former acting attorney general, and her firing on January 30, 2017 shows us why. Though she has been in the news this past month more than at any other point during her 27-year career, let us begin by looking back to her 2015 confirmation hearing for the position of deputy attorney general.
During this hearing, conservative senator Jeff Sessions asked Yates a series of questions in an overt effort to evaluate her loyalty to upholding the law. For example, Sessions asked, “Do you think the attorney general has a responsibility to say no to the president if [they] ask for something that is improper? If the views that the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or the deputy attorney general say no?”
Yates replied, “The attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law or the constitution and to give their independent legal advice to the president.” She continued on to state she believes that “it is the duty of the attorney general’s office to fairly and impartially evaluate the law and to provide the president and the administration with impartial legal advice.”
Fast-forward to January 2017, and that is exactly what she did. In evaluating the lawfulness of Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, Yates instructed the Department of Justice not to defend President Trump’s executive order on immigration. Just hours later, she was fired.
Some believe that using the term “Muslim ban” paints Trump in an unfairly negative light, or is not an accurate depiction of his intention behind the ban. I would advise those people to go to the source: Trump’s own website. Though it has since been changed, Trump’s site initially referred to this ban as exactly that, naming its goal as “preventing Muslim immigration.” The website then continued to explicitly state that “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” So let’s not be fooled; this was an attempt to ban Muslims. It is safe to say that Sally Yates was never fooled either.
Her firing came only three days after she urgently warned the White House that former national security advisor Michael Flynn was in fact a threat to national security, as he had lied to the Vice President about his contact with Russia and was now vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow. On May 8, Yates testified before a Senate panel regarding then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, emphasizing she gave the White House “a forceful warning” about his actions weeks before he, too, was fired. Yates thereby contradicted the administration’s version of events, which purported that she gave merely a “heads up” regarding Flynn that was in no way dire.
During her testimony, Senator Ted Cruz brought up the cause for her firing, asking Yates if she was familiar with 8 U.S.C. Section 1182 which outlines the president’s right to suspend the entry of anyone who is not a U.S. citizen or national into the U.S. if the president believes it would be “detrimental to the interest of the United States.”
Yates responded by stating that yes, she was familiar with that statute, as well as with an additional provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) which states: “No person shall receive preference or be discriminated against in issuance of a visa because of race, nationality, or place of birth.” She further explained that this provision was actually promulgated after the statute that Cruz had just quoted, and made it clear that her concern was not an INA concern, but rather a constitutional concern.
Some Republicans may find themselves in a bit of a conundrum right now, as many of them believe in a textualist interpretation of the Constitution. A textualist is one who believes that the law should follow legal tradition and be thought about in terms of what the original words of the Constitution meant to the society that adopted it. For example, Neil Gorsuch, the newly appointed Supreme Court judge, considers himself a textualist – something that excited many Republicans.
Sally Yates, on the other hand, acted in strict accordance with the Constitution and was not met with the same praise by Republicans. Instead, her actions resulted in none other than her firing. The last time I checked, the U.S. is not a monarchy, and loyalty to the president must never be held above the law or above the rights of the nation’s people.
In her first public interview since being fired, Yates was asked whether or not she would have done anything differently in the events leading up to her firing had she known what was to come; her answer was a simple “No.”
On May 24, Yates delivered a speech at Harvard University. She explained to the students that in the wake of her firing, she has been asked why she didn’t just resign. Some people believe this alternative would have been the better option, as they claim Yates was acting on her own political interest. However, after admitting that resigning was indeed an idea with which she grappled in order to protect her own integrity, she concluded that this was far beyond her.
“I believed then, and believe now,” stated Yates, “that resigning would have protected my personal integrity, but it would not have protected the integrity of the Department of Justice.” The department is not “just another law firm, and this wasn’t just any legal issue.”
As Yates clearly possesses traits that are admirable to both Republicans and Democrats alike, we can all learn a lesson from her. While unfortunately these admirable traits have led to her unjustifiable firing, it has perhaps granted Yates more opportunities to speak more openly on matters of U.S. politics. Hopefully, this will bring awareness to the undeniable corruption that is occurring under the current administration. Yates’ firing should concern you regardless of party preference; the integrity of the law is at stake.