Three Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, asking a federal court to stop him from leading the Justice Department.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii argue in the case that President Donald Trump’s move to name Whitaker temporarily as the nation’s top law enforcement official violates the Appointments Clause of the Constitution.
If allowed to stand, “Mr. Whitaker’s appointment would create a road map for the evasion of the constitutionally prescribed Senate advice-and-consent role,” the senators argue in the lawsuit.
Trump has said there is “no rush” to name a new attorney general, and the Justice Department has concluded the move is legal and constitutional. Whitaker is the first acting attorney general who has not received Senate confirmation since 1866.
“The U.S. Senate has not consented to Mr. Whitaker serving in any office within the federal government, let alone the highest office of the DOJ,” the Democratic senators state in the lawsuit.
Whitaker will be able to exercise all the powers of the attorney general for as many as 210 days and potentially many more, the senators wrote, and that unlawfully denies legislators their right to cast an effective vote and robs them of their core powers and responsibilities.
The Senate in the confirmation process would have the opportunity “to consider his espoused legal views, his affiliation with a company that is under criminal investigation for defrauding consumers, and his public comments criticizing and proposing to curtail ongoing DOJ investigations that implicate the President,” the lawsuit states.
As acting attorney general, Whitaker also has “vast ability to shape whether and how the laws enacted by Congress are enforced and the money appropriated by Congress is spent,” the lawmakers state.
The senators ask for a declaratory judgment that Whitaker and Trump are violating the Constitution, and an order to prevent him from acting as attorney general.
The case is Blumenthal, et al. v. Whitaker, et al., U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Docket No. 18-cv-02664.
Watch: Trump Says He Doesn’t Know Matt Whitaker