Yates is the inverse of Trump in that her rhetoric is reassuring but her actions were ruinous for her institution. There was no ethical or legal basis for her actions during her short term as acting attorney general. Yates showed a fundamental misunderstanding of her role in shutting down Justice Department in defiance of Trump. She simply declared that, “At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with [my] responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful.” In other words, convince me.

Our system does not work that way. In taking her unprecedented action, Yates seemed to confuse her personal and her professional judgment on the defense of this federal policy. Absent a clearly unconstitutional act, she had a duty to defend the policy. This is not a judgment call where reasonable minds could disagree. It must be an act that is so clearly and demonstrably unconstitutional that no good-faith argument can be made in court. That clearly was not the case with the travel ban litigation, in which good arguments were presented on both sides.