William Yeomans

  • October 3, 2017
    Guest Post

    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.

  • April 24, 2017
    Guest Post

    *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 William Yeomans, Fellow in Law and Government, American University Washington College of Law

    The election of Donald Trump jolted federal government lawyers. Trump ran for election promising to flout the constitution and federal laws. He questioned the value of many federal agencies and repeatedly denounced the number, quality and energy of federal employees. 

    The picture only grew worse as President Trump filled his cabinet with leaders with contempt for the missions of the agencies they lead. As a presidential candidate, Rick Perry wanted to abolish the Department of Energy. As Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt regularly sued the Environmental Protection Agency and since taking office has engendered such hostility among environmentalists and his own employees that he requires a 24-hour a day security detail. Ben Carson repeatedly expressed his contempt for public housing and the people who live in it. Betsy DeVos is perceived as so hostile to public education that she has been blocked by teachers from entering a public school. And Tom Price built a political career on hostility to expanding medical care through the Affordable Care Act, which he is now charged with administering.

    The appointment of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions as Attorney General signaled that President Trump was serious about radically reversing the direction of federal law enforcement. Lawyers throughout the federal government are affected by positions taken by the Department of Justice. Sessions’ appointment promised abandonment of the Obama administration’s strong enforcement of civil rights and environmental laws, efforts to soften the harsh edges of immigration laws and its push for criminal justice reform. 

  • March 20, 2017
    Guest Post

    by William Yeomans, Fellow in Law and Government, American University Washington College of Law

    As has become the custom, day one of the confirmation hearing for Neil Gorsuch to become an associate justice of the Supreme Court was swallowed by a series of now mandatory positioning statements by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republicans followed their script, uniformly adhering to talking points in praise of the nominee’s Ivy League credentials, years in private practice as a defender of free enterprise and principled conservatism on the bench. Translation: he is a smart guy who has shown his willingness to put his energy and intellect behind positions that track the Republican political agenda. That agenda favors employers over employees, management over labor, corporations and banks over consumers, religious interests over the rights of others and the Commander-in-Chief over Congress, while weakening federal administrative agencies, interpreting civil rights statutes narrowly and applying the doctrine of originalism to minimize individual rights and lock in traditional social injustices.

    Several Republican senators spent considerable energy providing cover for the nominee to refuse to answer questions, citing statements from Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a nominee and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy as a Committee member, cautioning that a nominee should not take positions on matters that could reach the Court. Invoking liberal icons exploited a tradition at confirmation hearings – citing the opposition to set up the defense of the nominee and teeing up the charge of hypocrisy if the other side attacks.

    Democrats were not deterred. Several cited the abusive treatment of Merrick Garland, but none declared these proceedings illegitimate. Nobody went quite so far as to suggest that President Trump might be as crazy and corrupt as he seems, undercutting the need to respect the nominee. But, several senators plainly thought the mistreatment of Garland combined with the unorthodoxy of the Trump presidency (including his announcement of litmus tests, and reliance on the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation to identify a nominee) to place an added burden on Gorsuch to be more forthcoming than the usual nominee to establish his independence and ability to serve as a check on an undisciplined executive.

  • September 14, 2016
    Dear Speaker Ryan and Leader Pelosi:
     
    We, as professors who specialize in constitutional law, write to urge you and your colleagues not to approve the fast-tracked resolution to impeach John Koskinen, Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.
     
    When it comes to impeachment, the Constitution leaves many open and difficult questions. Whether the alleged conduct of John Koskinen is impeachable is not one of them. There is simply no credible case for impeachment.
     
    The Constitution is designed to reserve the impeachment and removal from office for conduct that inflicts the most serious harms on society and that critically compromises the ability of an officer to govern. The Constitution limits the availability of impeachment in two ways. First, the Constitution provides a very limited definition of the scope of impeachment. Second, the Constitution erects significant procedural protections against impeachment and removal from office.
     
    I. The Constitution defines the scope of the impeachment power narrowly.
    An officer is subject to impeachment and removal from office only on the grounds of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” It is true that the phrase “other high crimes and misdemeanors” is open-ended. It is nonetheless clear that the phrase charts a narrow scope. The text explicitly links the phrase – by employing the term “other” – to definite terms treason and bribery. The familiar canon of construction, ejusdem generis, tells us that it is proper to understand the open-ended term as limited to conduct that involves the attributes common to the definite terms. Treason and bribery each involves an immediate and elemental threat to our constitutional system; an officer who commits either of these offenses is indisputably unfit for office. Thus, the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” refers not to any misconduct but to misconduct that harms the nation as seriously as treason or bribery and that renders an officer as indisputably unfit to serve as an officer who commits treason or bribery.
  • September 26, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    There’s a fairly decent chance that retirements from the U.S. Supreme Court will give the next president the opportunity to push the high court in a different direction. So one could justifiably expect the high court’s future to be worthy of some consistent and thoughtful election coverage. But according to a new report from Media Matters many major networks’ evening news coverage has provided scant mention of the Supreme Court.

    In a Media Matters blog post, Sergio Munoz says the group’s report reveals, “Primetime news has largely overlooked the future ideological direction of the U.S. Supreme Court as a key election issue, failing to note that the candidate who wins in November will likely appoint justices and shape how the court will decide vitally important issues.”

    Media Matters reports that evening news broadcasts of CBS and NBC have, since early spring, not touched the subject and that ABC and CNN have only given seconds to the matter. The report shows that only MSNBC’s gaggle of talking heads has provided coverage of the Supreme Court’s future.

    Noting the advanced ages of several of the justices, Munoz says the “high likelihood of multiple judicial nominations to the Court for the next president is even more newsworthy in light of the Court’s sharp ideological polarization. Although experts have termed the Court presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts the most conservative in U.S. history, the Court remains sharply split, with many cases decided by a vote of 5-4.”