Update, Jan. 30 9:30pm: Yates has been removed from her post and replaced by Dana Boente, who was appointed by Obama in 2015 as US attorney for the eastern district of Virginia.
The acting head of the US Department of Justice has joined a long list of foreign leaders, corporate executives, human rights activists, and US legislators in opposing new US president Donald Trump’s immigration ban. Her stance carries special weight, as it leaves the federal government without an authorized legal defense in court cases against the executive order.
In a memo sent to her staff, obtained by Politico and other US news outlets, acting attorney general Sally Yates said the Justice Department would not defend the executive action to temporarily ban refugees from around the world and immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries.
Arguing that her department’s obligation is “to always seek justice and stand for what is right,” Yates wrote: “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.”
Yates was number two in the department under former US president Barack Obama and is heading the outfit in an acting capacity pending Alabama senator Jeff Sessions’ confirmation by the Senate. Trump has the authority to fire her for taking the stance she has chosen.