Joel McElvain, who has worked at the Justice Department for more than 20 years, submitted his resignation letter Friday, the morning after Attorney General Jeff Sessions notified Congress that the agency will not defend the ACA — the 2010 law known as Obamacare — against lawsuits brought by Republican-led states challenging its requirement that most Americans carry health insurance…

“This is the first I’m hearing it, and it’s a gut punch,” said one person who worked with McElvain for years and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive personnel issue. “That will be a very big blow to the morale of the [agency’s] civil division, a really sad day for the Department of Justice and a loss for the country.”

Several colleagues said McElvain was in line to become director of the Justice Department’s federal programs branch, which handles complex government policy questions pending before the courts. It is not known for its politics but for the tenacity with which its lawyers defend the law — any law — passed by Congress.