The Department of Justice under Attorney General Sessions has been criticized for changing its positions in litigation from those taken by the Obama administration on such questions as whether Title VII prevents discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Some of the criticism has been on the merits of the new position, but others have complained about the wisdom or propriety of changing a position that the government has already advanced in court.
This latter kind of complaint is wholly without merit. The Department of Justice is not like a private litigant and should change positions to reflect the jurisprudential stance of the President and his new administration. Unlike a private client, the President has taken an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” and must “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Thus, as I have noted long ago, the Attorney General and his subordinates have obligations that no private lawyer has: not simply to prevail in litigation, but to advance the President’s interpretation of the Constitution and the laws made under it.
To the objection that President Trump, a non-lawyer, has no jurisprudence, the Attorney General and his subordinates should ask themselves what the President would do if he knew as much about jurisprudence as they do. With President Trump, they are substantially aided by President’s own actions. His list of potential Supreme Court justices were to a person committed originalists and textualists.