Everything a Government Employee Needs to Know About Defying Illegal Presidential Orders
Imagine you’re a midlevel staffer in a federal department—any federal department. You come into work one morning in your drab Washington office and lea ...
“ … Although the president can fire Cabinet officials, such as the attorney general, for almost any reason, most government employees aren’t so easy to get rid of. Civil servants—that is, the rank-and-file members who make up the vast majority of the federal government—also take an oath to uphold the Constitution, some version of which has been used since the first Congress. Moreover, federal law (5 U.S.C. §2302(b)(9)(D), if you’re curious) makes it illegal to remove a civil servant “for refusing to obey an order that would require the individual to violate a law.” … “
“ … So what is a career civil servant who’s being asked to execute an illegal order supposed to do? The combination of the servant’s oath of office (which promises to uphold the Constitution) and the civil-service law (which forbids disciplining employees who won’t break the law) makes the answer clear: just say no. … “
“ … But say you do refuse to go along with a likely illegal order. What happens then? After all, your superiors—who, if you go high enough up the chain, will eventually be political appointees, subject to direct presidential control—presumably won’t agree that President Trump’s orders violate the law. If you’re fired or suspended for refusing to execute an unlawful order, the Merit Systems Protection Board steps in. The MSPB exists to protect and enforce the civil-service requirements, including the protection against being required to execute illegal or unconstitutional orders. To do that, it’s empowered to hear appeals regarding civil servants’ terminations, reductions in pay, or suspensions. … “