If there’s been a theme to the speeches at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, it’s that President Donald Trump has destroyed presidential norms and is a threat to the rule of law and America as we know it. Cheery, uplifting stuff, but such are the times we live in.
Perhaps no speaker exemplified the willingness to cast the Trump administration in a relentlessly negative light so much as Sally Yates, the former acting U.S. attorney general.
In her speech, recorded from Atlanta, Yates said the president “treats our country like it’s his family business — this time, bankrupting our nation’s moral authority at home and abroad. But our country doesn’t belong to him. It belongs to all of us.”
Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates says President Trump “treats our country like it’s his family business — this time, bankrupting our nation’s moral authority at home and abroad. But our country doesn’t belong to him. It belongs to all of us.” https://t.co/tFT8FVSwQb pic.twitter.com/crMvYJGhlF
— CBS News (@CBSNews) August 19, 2020
Yates was fired in the early days of the Trump administration when she refused to enact the president’s travel ban. In her remarks before the convention Tuesday, Yates referred to it as a “Muslim ban.”
According to a transcript of the second night of the convention by Rev, Tracee Ellis Ross introduced Yates by saying she “refused to defend an unconstitutional travel ban and paid for it with her job.”
“Speaking at a political convention is something I never expected to be doing, but the future of our democracy is at stake,” Yates said.
“I served as deputy attorney general in the Obama-Biden administration, and stayed on as acting attorney general for the Trump transition,” she said.
“Then 10 days in, I was fired for refusing to defend President Trump’s shameful and unlawful Muslim travel ban. That was the start of his relentless attacks on our democratic institutions and countless dedicated public servants.
“Like me, these officials didn’t swear an oath to a person or a party. Public servants promise to defend our Constitution, uphold our laws, and work on behalf of the American people.
“But from the moment President Trump took office, he’s used his position to benefit himself rather than our country. He’s trampled the rule of law, trying to weaponize our Justice Department to attack his enemies and protect his friends.”
If her definition of “trampling the rule of law” involves a “Muslim ban” that was upheld by the Supreme Court, it’s a curious one.
In June 2018, the Supreme Court upheld the president’s travel ban by a 5-4 vote. The countries covered by the ban at that time included Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, as well as some government officials from Venezuela.
According to NPR, the court’s decision — written by Chief Justice John Roberts — found that the travel ban fell “squarely within the scope of Presidential authority under the INA,” or Immigration and Nationality Act.
While five of the seven nations on the list were majority-Muslim, the travel ban proclamation made clear those countries either were state sponsors of terrorism or had declined “to share or validate important information about individuals” in order to properly vet them for entry.
“Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, foreign nationals seeking entry into the United States undergo a vetting process to ensure that they satisfy the numerous requirements for admission,” Roberts wrote in his decision.
He also noted that under the INA, the president has significant authority to determine whether to restrict travel from a country when admitting individuals from that country “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
Roberts said Trump “lawfully exercised that discretion based on his findings — following a worldwide, multi-agency review — that entry of the covered aliens would be detrimental to the national interest. And plaintiffs’ attempts to identify a conflict with other provisions in the INA, and their appeal to the statute’s purposes and legislative history, fail to overcome the clear statutory language.”
At the time, the president lauded the decision.
“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a tremendous victory for the American People and the Constitution,” Trump said in a statement.
“The Supreme Court has upheld the clear authority of the President to defend the national security of the United States. In this era of worldwide terrorism and extremist movements bent on harming innocent civilians, we must properly vet those coming into our country.
“This ruling is also a moment of profound vindication following months of hysterical commentary from the media and Democratic politicians who refuse to do what it takes to secure our border and our country.
“As long as I am President, I will defend the sovereignty, safety, and security of the American People, and fight for an immigration system that serves the national interests of the United States and its citizens. Our country will always be safe, secure and protected on my watch.”
The travel ban, in other words, is wholly constitutional.
It’s also just that — a travel ban, not a “Muslim ban.” It makes Americans safer.
Yates’ speech, like so much at this year’s Democratic National Convention, sounded an alarm about a chimerical concern.
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