SCOTUS rebuffs challenge to Trump appointee Whitaker

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday stayed out of the fight over whether President Donald Trump's appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general is unlawful by rejecting a motion relating to the matter filed in a pending firearms-related case.

The court turned away the request made by Barry Michaels, a criminal defendant in a federal case whose lawyers challenged Whitaker, a former federal prosecutor, being named in court papers as the acting attorney general after Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Nov. 7. The court in a brief order also declined to hear Michaels' appeal in the underlying case.

Michaels filed suit in Nevada challenging a U.S. law that bars him from buying a firearm due to prior non-violent criminal convictions. His lawyers decided to make Whitaker's appointment an issue in their pending appeal before the high court because Sessions was originally named as a defendant in the case.

Michaels' lawyers argued that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the department's No. 2 official, should have succeeded Sessions under a federal law that vests full authority in the deputy attorney general should the office of attorney general become vacant.

Trump has nominated William Barr, who served as attorney general under former President George H.W. Bush, to succeed Sessions as attorney general. The Senate is due to begin its confirmation hearing on Barr's nomination on Tuesday. Rosenstein is preparing to leave his job soon after Barr takes office, a department official said last week.

8 PHOTOS
Matthew Whitaker
See Gallery
Matthew Whitaker
Iowa Republican senatorial candidate former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker looks on before a live televised debate at Iowa Public Television studios, Thursday, April 24, 2014, in Johnston, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
UNITED STATES - July 23: Matt Whitaker (R) Iowa is interviewed at Roll Call office in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
Iowa Republican senatorial candidates, retired CEO Mark Jacobs, left, and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker, talk after a live televised debate at KCCI-TV studios, Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Iowa Republican senatorial candidate, former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker, looks on before a live televised debate at KCCI-TV studios, Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
FILE - In this April 11, 2014, file photo, Iowa Senate candidate Matt Whitaker speaks during the Iowa Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day dinner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A GOP TV spot comparing castrating hogs to cutting spending, and Democrat Bruce Braley’s comment that lawyers like him are better suited to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee than “an Iowa farmer” like U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, have raised the Iowa’s open Senate seat on the GOP’s list of winnable races in the 2014 elections. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Iowa Republican Matt Whitaker officially announces his plans to run for the U.S. Senate in 2014 during a news conference, Monday, June 3, 2013, in Ankeny, Iowa. The former U.S. attorney said that he will seek the seat being vacated by retiring five-term Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
FILE - In this April 11, 2014, file photo, Iowa Senate candidate Matt Whitaker speaks during the Iowa Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day dinner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A GOP TV spot comparing castrating hogs to cutting spending, and Democrat Bruce Braley’s comment that lawyers like him are better suited to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee than “an Iowa farmer” like U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, have raised the Iowa’s open Senate seat on the GOP’s list of winnable races in the 2014 elections. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
UNITED STATES - July 23: Matt Whitaker (R) Iowa is interviewed at Roll Call office in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Some of the same lawyers are involved in a similar effort to challenge Whitaker's appointment brought before a federal judge in Maryland.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh asked a federal judge to bar Whitaker from appearing in an official capacity as acting attorney general in the state's lawsuit against the Trump administration over the Obamacare healthcare law.

Maryland also argued Trump violated the Constitution's "appointments clause" because the attorney general is a "principal officer" who must be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

A similar lawsuit has been filed by Democratic U.S. senators.

The Justice Department has defended the legality of Whitaker's appointment, saying Trump was empowered to give him the job under a 1998 law called the Federal Vacancies Reform Act even though he was not a Senate-confirmed official.

Congressional Democrats had raised concerns Whitaker could undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible conspiracy between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Moscow.

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.