Two lawyers discussed the challenges and rewards of opposing President Donald Trump’s executive orders during our final June lecture, on the topic “Strategies for Resistance by State and Local Governments.”
Mollie Lee, deputy city attorney for San Francisco, described the “catastrophic” consequences of the possibility of San Francisco losing funding because it has declared itself a sanctuary city. She said her resistance work has been challenging — and has required long hours.
“The most rewarding thing is actually thinking, ‘We can do something,’” Lee said. “There’s something incredibly gratifying about working in an office and feeling like you’re fighting the good fight. That’s what all of us have the opportunity to do now.”
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Marsha Chien, a former Legal Aid at Work staffer and now an assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Unit at the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, talked about the experience of winning a temporary restraining order from U.S. District Court Judge James Robart in Seattle — including her own tears of joy when Robart blocked the Muslim travel ban.
Lee filed a lawsuit to preserve San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city. In a sanctuary city, city funds cannot be used to help enforce federal immigration law, and local law enforcement cannot detain someone on the basis of an ICE detainer. Trump’s executive order 13768 would have barred sanctuary cities from receiving federal funding, but U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick ruled that the move was unfair and probably exceeded federal authority.
“The consequences would have been catastrophic,” Lee said. “We wanted to take a stand and say that we weren’t going to be bullied into abandoning our immigrant community.”
Litigating against the travel ban executive order “hit home” for Chien, who comes from a family of immigrants.
“When the executive order leaked on Thursday, [Jan. 26], it felt really raw to me,” she said. “When it was issued, it hit home. It was a reminder that you could be excluded on the basis of being an immigrant. It meant a lot for me to be able to work on it.”
Chien called Robart’s order “a legal hug.”
“The most important part of the ruling wasn’t for immigrants,” she said. “The fear is still there regardless of Supreme Court decisions. The biggest impact was the moment that we could say, ‘We can stand up and fight this.’ I think we all go to law school to be powerful, and for a split second, we were powerful. You go to three years of law school so that you can be powerful for a week, but it’s worth it.”
Chien and Lee discussed how Trump’s use of Twitter has affected their litigation. For them, being three hours behind the east coast brought “dread” waking up in the morning and thinking about what the president had tweeted overnight.
“What are the statements by the president? A lot of them are tweets,” Lee said. “It’s a way in which we are seeing a changing conception of what counts as authoritative. The president’s statement that his tweets are official statements of the president – that was golden.”
Here is a recap of the lecture, including live tweets: