Rule of Law

A judge said a top official was unlawfully in his job. The admin just altered his title instead

Last month a judge found that unqualified Trump-appointed official William Pendley had been unlawfully serving in his position of acting Bureau of Land Management (BLM) director for well over a year, meaning a number of anti-environment policies he signed while illegitimately serving were now at risk. The judge, The New York Times reports, “ordered briefs from all parties regarding which of Mr. Pendley’s policies should be overturned, due this week.”

That sounds like some good news, right? Some justice finally prevailed. But not really. Not only is the Trump administration fighting the federal judge’s court order, it’s openly defying it: the Times reports Pendley remains at the agency, but now under an altered job title. Presto change-o, problem fixed. But Pendley isn’t the only unqualified administration official unlawfully serving in their job. Nope, not even close.

We’ve talked about Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli, the mini-fascists who’ve been using the full power of their department not to protect all Americans, but to protect one person: impeached President Donald Trump. And just like Pendley, both are unlawfully serving in their positions according to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO), with Unlawful Chad as acting secretary and Ken as his deputy. And just like Pendley, both are still in their positions.

But even these three deplorable musketeers only scratch at the surface of this administration’s unprecedented corruption and lawlessness: “The Constitutional Accountability Center, a liberal research group, has identified 15 high-ranking Trump administration officials who are currently holding jobs in violation of the vacancies act,” the Times continued. Georgetown University professor of environmental and administrative law Lisa Heinzerling told the Times that the administration’s defiance of the order concerning Pendley was “striking.”

Tell us about it. It’s been well over 100 days since the Supreme Court ruled on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and young undocumented immigrants still aren’t able to apply for first-time protections because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is refusing to follow the court’s order and accept their applications. And in a double-whammy of corruption, remember that another federal judge found that Ken Cuccinelli, a noted anti-immigrant loudmouth, was also unlawfully serving in his other government job as acting USCIS director.

Each of those two government positions should be mammoth on their own. Perhaps Ken has time to juggle both because defying a Supreme Court order means less work? He certainly shitposts enough from his professional Twitter account to give the impression that he has all the time in the world.

Pendley’s certainly doing plenty of damage himself. “Mr. Pendley, a former oil-industry lawyer, has ridiculed the established science of climate change and called for the sale of public lands,” the Times said. “Under Mr. Pendley the bureau has approved dozens of land management plans and expanded oil and gas drilling in several states, including within the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments in Utah. He also has spearheaded moving the bureau from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colo., which many environmental groups believe is part of an effort to hollow out the agency.”

So by now you’re probably wondering the same thing I am: How are they still in their jobs if there are court rulings saying they’re unlawfully serving? The GAO’s findings aren’t court orders, but court orders are court orders. That means something, right? I’m sorry to inform you that I’m just as stuck as you are. I can only assume that an administration that’s perfectly willing to defy the Supreme Court just because it didn’t like the ruling (hey, maybe someone should ask Amy Coney Barrett how she feels about that) has no qualms about ignoring a pesky lower court ruling. Especially when the Republicans who control half of Congress won’t hold it accountable. It’s a good thing there’s an election coming up that gives us a chance to boot not only Trump, but also his lackeys.