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Sally Yates Put It All Out There In A Harvard Graduation Speech

“Resigning would have protected my personal integrity”

As you might recall, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates became a progressive hero when she defied Trump by openly criticizing his travel ban, getting fired in the process. On Wednesday, Yates spoke to Harvard Law School’s graduating class and opened up about her news-making time in the White House.


The transition of power was “supposed to be an uneventful time,” Yates explained to the class of 2017. But as we all know now, the first few weeks of Trump’s presidency—and every week since then, for that matter—has been anything but uneventful.

“The defining moments in our lives often don’t come with advance warning,”’ said Yates of the minute she realized she could not defend an executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Faced with the decision to either order the Justice Department not to defend the ban or resign, Yates had little time to resolve a personal dilemma. “But I believed then and I believe now that resigning would have protected my personal integrity,” she said, “but it would not have protected the integrity of the Department of Justice.”

Then she delivered this kicker, the moral of the story, if you will:

“You too will face weighty decisions, where the law and conscience intertwine, and while it may not play out in such a public way, the conflict you’ll feel will be no less real, and the consequences of your decision also significant. The time for introspection is all along the way, to develop a sense of who you are and what you stand for, because you never know when you’re going to be called to answer that question.”

So, just to recap, Sally Yates is even more of a champion of the people than we previously thought. Despite all the jokes and stereotypes painting lawyers as morally bankrupt moneymakers and ambulance chasers, Yates exemplifies the optimism with which so many students pursue the profession. There’s never been a better time to take on the task of defending justice—even (or especially) if it means going against the status quo in order to do what’s right.

You can read Yates’ speech in its entirety here or watch it via the video above.

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Center for American Progress Action Fund

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