The Justice Department Responds to President Trump's Immigration Order

January 30th 2017

Kyle Jaeger

President Donald Trump's executive order barring immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries was directly challenged by Acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Monday.

In a letter, Yates questioned the legality of the immigration policy and ordered lawyers at the Department of Justice not to defend the executive action in court.

Yates wrote:

"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. 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."

The New York Times described the move as "largely symbolic" in light of the pending confirmation of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, President Donald Trump's pick for attorney general. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold its final vote on Sessions' confirmation on Tuesday.


For the time being, however, Yates — who was confirmed under former President Barack Obama's administration — maintains a critical role in the Justice Department. Trump can legally fire her, but the Times noted that Yates is the "only one authorized to sign foreign surveillance warrants," for example.

In a statement emailed to ATTN:, Amnesty International spokesperson Robyn Shepherd voiced support for Yates' decision.

"We’re just seeing this as well, but since Amnesty International feels that the executive order is cruel and inhumane and should be repealed, it only makes sense to us that the DOJ should not defend it," Shepherd wrote. "The order effectively writes anti-Muslim bigotry and discrimination into policy and is a violation of international human rights law."

In her letter, Yates noted that the president's executive order has already been "challenged in a number of jurisdictions." On Saturday, a federal judge granted a temporary stay of the order that applies to individuals who were detained after traveling to the U.S. while the ban took effect.