Should I Stay or Should I Go? Deciding Whether to Serve in an Unfriendly Administration

June 9, 2017

An experienced bureaucracy is necessary to conduct the business of government and may be an effective bulwark against executive abuses of power. But at what point are the reasons to serve in an administration with whom one ideologically disagrees or that has an agenda contrary to the central mission of the very agency in which one serves sufficiently outweighed by the risks of serving? For many, the choice to stay may be motivated by the value of maintaining institutional memory, the likelihood of sycophantic replacements, and a hope that one can continue to advance the good work already begun. But when an administration has been demonstrably hostile to the rule of law, what legal or personal ethics guide lawyers in their decision to stay or go? And when should they blow the whistle on agency activities? The 2016 election is not the first time government lawyers have asked themselves some of these questions, but it has thrown them into high relief.