Wiley Rein Wiley Rein offices in Washington, D.C. Credit: Diego M. Radzinschi / ALM

Brett Shumate, a top political appointee in the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Division, is stepping down after a two-year stint crisscrossing the country in defense of the Trump administration’s policies.

As a deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Division, Shumate emerged as among the most visible Justice Department trial attorneys as he stepped into challenges to controversial Trump administration moves, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Shumate had been a partner at Wiley Rein before joining the Justice Department, where he has served under Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt.

Shumate did not respond to a request for comment. A person close to Shumate noted that two-year tenures are standard for political appointees and said he plans to spend time with his family before taking his next career step. He has not selected or committed to any law firm, the person said.

Shumate was among the leading lawyers on the Justice Department team that abandoned the defense of the Affordable Care Act in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which is weighing the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s signature health care law. In a reversal, the Justice Department said last month it will now endorse the Texas trial judge’s decision declaring the entirely of the Affordable Care Act unlawful.

The government this week asked the court to set an expedited argument schedule and to hear the case by July. Main Justice has not yet announced who will argue for the government. The government’s abrupt refusal last year to defend part of Obamacare spurred several career Justice Department lawyers to withdraw their appearances in the case.

On Thursday, Shumate filed notices with courts across the country announcing his departure.

Shumate had been at Wiley Rein since 2007 before jumping to Main Justice. At the firm, he reported earning $577,795 in salary and bonus, according to a financial disclosure obtained by The National Law Journal. A Wiley Rein spokesperson was not immediately reached for comment.

Shumate spent much of 2017 traveling across the United States, appearing in federal district courts to defend the Trump administration. Those cases involved immigration, voting rights, sanctuary cities, regulatory rollbacks and alleged conflicts of interest involving President Donald Trump.

A former clerk for Judge Edith Jones on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Shumate made regular appearances in Washington district court.

In late 2017, he defended Trump’s decision to name then-White House budget director Mick Mulvaney as the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau following the resignation of Richard Cordray. With Shumate handling court arguments, the Justice Department defeated a bid by the CFPB’s deputy director at the time, Leandra English, to be named as the bureau’s rightful interim leader.

Hunt, formerly chief of staff to then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has led the Civil Division since his confirmation in August 2018. He succeeded Chad Readler, the acting head and former Jones Day appellate partner who has since been confirmed to a seat on the Sixth Circuit.


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