Some Justice Department lawyers advised Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker not to sign an order banning gun stocks, arguing that the legality of his appointment could be at risk.
Senior Justice Department lawyers advised acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker not to sign a gun regulation change, warning him that doing so could lead to a successful legal challenge to his appointment, the Washington Post reports. Whitaker heard from other DOJ officials who believed he should sign a change in gun regulations that bans the use of bump stocks, devices that attach to semiautomatic rifles and allow them to fire more like automatic weapons. He signed the document on Tuesday. The internal debate over Whitaker’s signature shows how concerned top Justice Department executives are that his appointment is vulnerable to a legal challenge, when lawyers suing the department over various policy issues need to find only one federal judge who agrees with that position.
Whitaker is overseeing the Justice Department while William Barr awaits Senate confirmation hearings to become the next attorney general. Those hearings have yet to be scheduled, and Whitaker could stay in the job for another month or more. The litigation concerns surrounding Whitaker are partly fueled by the “national injunction” problem — that when lawyers challenge a particular government policy in court, a single federal judge has the authority to issue a court order blocking that policy across the nation. Ultimately, Whitaker sided with the lawyers who said he could sign the regulation. Even if a judge ruled against him, another Justice Department official could immediately re-sign it and avoid a significant delay in the ban on bump stocks. The day the ban was announced, some gun-rights groups said they would challenge it in court, and attack Whitaker’s authority to implement such a change.