Friday, March 10, 2017
Brad Wendel has posted a critique of Sally Yates' justification for her decision not to enforce the Trump administration's travel ban. An excerpt:
Whether the order is lawful will be determined by the courts. What interests me, as a scholar of legal ethics and jurisprudence, is whether Yates got it right when she said the responsibility of a lawyer for the government is to seek justice and stand for what is right, and that the position of the Department of Justice should be informed by the lawyer’s best view of the law. Yates’s claim that legal advisor should be informed by the best view of the law sounds very much like the position of Ronald Dworkin, who argued that a judge should determine the legal rights and duties of the litigants by constructing the best possible interpretation of the principles of justice, fairness, and procedural due process, considered from the standpoint of the community’s political morality. The interpretation must fit with past legal decisions, but the judge’s aim is also to show the community’s legal practices in their best moral light. I do not know whether Yates was thinking about Dworkin when she wrote her letter, but I wish to use this essay to seek to persuade legal advisors – whether to the government or a private client – that their role is not to construct an interpretation of the law that represents the best constructive interpretation of political morality.
Wendel's scholarship is always worth reading, and this essay is no exception. In previous work, I've pushed back a bit on his recurrent thesis that a lawyer's duty of loyalty to the client is vindicated through the lawyer's duty of loyalty to the law, period. My core concern with Wendel's approach is that our focus on the client as a citizen may obscure a view of the client as a person, though the dynamics are a little different in the context of a government lawyer, and I share his misgivings about Yates' explanation. If you're interested, you can read a fuller explanation of my reservations with Wendel's approach here.