In the swirling maelstrom that is the news out of Washington in the last week or so, it is sometimes difficult to keep up with exactly what is going on. Over the last few days, our nation has gained a new national hero in Sally Yates. Yates was a long time Justice Department attorney, named Deputy Attorney General in a landslide confirmation vote of 84 to 12 under a republican congress in 2015. Her long career with the DOJ led the Trump administration to keep her on as acting Attorney General during the changeover, something on par with past administrative transitions.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s highly controversial executive order banning immigrant and refugee entrance from seven nations, Yates stood up as a voice of reason amid widespread chaos and refused to enforce the order. For many, this move was seen as a necessary check to an administration gone wild. The overreach demonstrated by the Trump administration in this first week has stunned not just the nation but the world. Yates refusal was in line with conventions set by generations of checks and balances upon which our nation is founded.
Trump’s order bans all refugees from entering the US for 120 days, refugees from Syria from entering indefinitely, and bans outright citizens from Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Iran. All of these are Muslim-majority nations and, while the ban does not use language that specifically targets Muslims, revelations over the last several days from interviews with Rudy Giuliani and in fact Trump himself have made clear that its ultimate aim is to keep Muslims out while favoring Christians for entrance into the US.
The problem with this, apart from it being wildly unethical under any circumstances and flying in the face of human deceny, is that it also directly violates the US Constitution. In her refusal to defend Trump’s executive order, Yates was upholding the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It is literally one of the bedrock principles—and laws—of our nation.
It is more than likely that Yates realized her refusal to cooperate with the Trump Administration would spell her dismissal. On January 30 she received a hand-delivered letter relieving her of her post as Acting Attorney General. The White House, almost simultaneously, released an unnecessarily incendiary statement in which Yates was said to have “betrayed the Department of Justice” in her refusal to enforce the order.
Many groups, including the ACLU who are presently building a legal case against Trump’s questionably constitutional immigration ban, believe that in fact Yates was defending the very fabric of our nation and that it is Donald Trump who has already betrayed us over and over during his short tenure as president. The Executive Order on immigration has not only created chaos and torn families apart, it has also put the US in a precarious position on the world stage.
Sally Yates is not a betrayer, rather hers is one of the few voices in the last week that has risen up above the cacophony of un-American statements and actions emanating from the Oval Office to defend the document on which our already great nation was founded.