by William Yeomans, Lecturer in Law, Columbia Law School
*William Yeomans served 24 years in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. He is currently the Ronald Goldfarb Fellow at the Alliance for Justice and Lecturer in Law at Columbia Law School.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last week stated in a speech to oil industry executives that among Interior Department employees he “got 30 percent of the crew that’s not loyal to the flag.” He elaborated that they were not loyal to President Trump or to him. Zinke’s comments convey an attitude toward government service that is grounded in ignorance of the role of career government servants.
First, Zinke, as did Trump in dealing with former FBI Director James Comey, equated “loyalty” to the president with loyalty to “the flag,” presumably meaning the country. He suggested that patriotism in federal employment requires loyalty to the president. In reality, of course, every federal employee takes an oath to uphold the Constitution and does not swear fealty to the occupant of the Oval Office or his appointees. Federal employees serve their country by defending the Constitution and enforcing duly enacted law.