In January, President Donald J. Trump issued an executive order which would send American and the world into what has been described as an international crisis. Just seven days into the administration and eleven words later, Trump signed an order titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.”
Essentially the Trump Administration immediately instituted a highly controversial suspension of the issuance of Visas and other immigration benefits to foreign nationals from 7 countries that are primarily Muslim and who are likely “to commit terrorist attacks in the United States.”
The self-described Muslim Ban, although there is debate over whether or not it is in fact a Muslim Ban, was simply executing a commitment just as Trump promised on the campaign trail and verified by his top surrogate, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on Fox News sharing he instructed Trump on how to implement a Muslim Ban.
What followed was global breakdown in communication between The White House and the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE), The Department of Homeland Security, and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) leading to the detention, denial of entry, and invasive screening of hundreds, maybe thousands of immigrants trying to reenter the United States.
Lawyers, like all Americans, were watching the first this national crisis unfold on live television. Images of Muslims family members and friends begging, pleading, and crying for the release of their loved ones sparked a spirit of activism within not only American protesters but awakened the spirit of pro bono in our legal profession.
Lawyers, paralegals, and other legal aid individuals packed up their laptops and note pads and set up camp in airports all over the nation including in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Atlanta and more. Firms such as Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and others such as Kirkland Ellis and Akin Gump were on the front lines assisting anyone who was experiencing immigration issues.
Of course many of the firms have clients that reside in or are citizens from places such as Syria, Somalia, Iraq and other countries on the list but this work is a direct response from the great oath of every lawyer to defend liberty and pursue justice.
Charles Hamilton Houston once said, “A lawyer is either a social engineer… or a parasite on society.” Truer words could not describe former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Yates, in a most unprecedented move, ordered her attorneys at the U.S. Department of Justice to not defend the enforcement of Trump’s executive order. Yates was confronted with a deep moral dilemma – which is to enforce or not enforce a directive if there are legitimate issues with the constitutionality of the order. There were small legal victories, such as the order to stay the enforcement from the Eastern District of New York court, but how would this play out on the national stage?
Yates and the Justice Department were not consulted prior to the rollout of this order, and after three days of protests, she stood on the foundation of her oath to the American people and conviction to uphold her integrity, grabbed her constitution and defied President Trump. Her announcement sent shockwaves throughout the world and gave all of us the strength and zeal to speak truth to power for what we believe in.
Unfortunately, the victory was short lived as the President fired Yates in what was reminiscent of the 1973 Saturday Night Massacre. Just a few hours later, by a hand-delivered letter. U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente was tapped to be her replacement and vowed to enforce the order.
Yates, who is highly respected by both conservatives and liberals, will represent the type of lawyers who will be regarded as the social engineers of this presidential era – lawyers who will gird themselves in adhering to the principles of our Constitution while sacrificing their career pursuits in honor of advancing access to justice.
As long as there are thousands of lawyers like Sally Yates out there, the United States of America will be great again.