Sally Yates.
Sally Yates. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ)

Attorneys reacted Monday night to the removal of acting Attorney General Sally Yates, arguing on Twitter and news programs about whether the events could be compared to the Nixon Era Saturday Night Massacre.

A few pointed out that Yates had answered questions during her 2015 confirmation hearing that seemed to herald her dramatic departure—and that it was Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions doing the asking.

“There’ll be people calling demanding, pushing, insisting on things they don’t know what they’re asking for and could indeed be corrosive of the rule of law,” Sessions said. He continued: “Do you think the attorney general has a responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that’s improper?”

“The attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution and to give their independent legal advice to the president,” Yates responded.

The White House issued a statement at roughly 9:15 p.m. Monday announcing that Yates had been fired for refusing to enforce the president’s executive order blocking citizens of seven predominantly-Muslim nations from entering the U.S. The statement said that Yates had “betrayed” the Department of Justice with that decision.

Sessions asked Yates about immigration enforcement in particular at her confirmation hearing. “Immigration law is important to be consistently and effectively enforced. Should it not?”

“I believe that all of our laws should be consistently and effectively enforced and within the confines of the Constitution,” Yates said.

“Well that’s a good answer. But they’re not being,” Sessions responded. He described what he called the “collapse of integrity in immigration enforcement.”

Sessions said during one exchange: “I hope that you feel free to say no in the character of John Ashcroft, and others who said no to President Nixon on certain issues.”

His Nixon reference alluded to events of Oct. 20, 1973, known as the Saturday Night Massacre, when Nixon ordered the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox leading to the resignations of the Justice Department’s two top officials.

The search term “Saturday Night Massacre” surged on Google Monday night. The phrase Monday Night Massacre was referenced in 31,000 tweets.

“Am I right that the last time a President fired an AG it was Pres. Nixon, on a Sat. night 4 years in? And here we are a whopping 10 days in…” wrote Hogan Lovells partner Neal Katyal in a tweet.

Supreme Court blogger Josh Blackman, an associate professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, posted a series of tweets Monday night arguing that President Trump had no choice but to fire Yates.

“Duty to take care that the laws are faithfully executed belongs to POTUS alone. If appointee gets in the removal is the only option,” Blackman wrote, adding: “I genuinely fear that Yates foolish last stand will poison Trump’s already low estimation of lawyers. This will backfire quickly.”

Yates’s replacement, Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, was sworn in Monday evening and has agreed to defend Trump’s executive order. He will serve pending the Senate confirmation of Sessions.

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