*This piece is part of the ACSblog Symposium: 2017 ACS National Convention. The symposium will consider topics featured at the three day convention, scheduled for June 8-10, 2017. Learn more about the Convention here.
by Deborah Rhode, Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law and Director of the Center on the Legal Profession, Stanford Law School
“It depends,” is the most irritating answer that an ethics professor can give to difficult ethical questions. But sometimes it is the only one that makes sense, and that is my response to whether socially responsible lawyers can, or should, serve in the Trump administration. The key factors are what the position is and how much ability the lawyer has to accomplish ethically defensible ends.
I begin from the premise that it will not serve the public interest if the only lawyers in governmental positions are those who share Trump’s views. There are many relatively apolitical legal jobs in the federal government in which attorneys can do “good” work, in both a descriptive and prescriptive sense. And there are even some political jobs, for which, as New York Times columnist Russ Douthat has argued, if Trump is willing to make “responsible appointments, the good of the world requires that responsible people accept them.” Progressive administration lawyers can be the front line of resistance to executive abuse. They can supply passive resistance to efforts to roll back important procedural and substantive protections. And they can effectively enforce the safeguards that are not under siege. To take an obvious example, the enforcement division of the EPA urgently needs attorneys who have environmental commitments that their president may not share.