WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump sidestepped the Constitution and the Justice Department’s own succession plan by appointing of Matthew Whitaker as the new U.S. acting attorney general, the state of Maryland says in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
In a 41-page motion filed in a federal court in Maryland, the state claims Whitaker’s appointment by the president is illegitimate and that under the Acting Attorney General Succession Act and other statutory requirements found in the U.S. Constitution, it must be deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who succeeds former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The president bypassed Rosenstein and elevated Whitaker to the role shortly after Sessions submitted his forced resignation the morning after Election Day.
“An injunction is warranted because plaintiff is likely to show that Whitaker’s appointment is unlawful, allowing Whitaker to act as attorney general will cause plaintiff irreparable injury,” wrote Brian Frosh, Maryland’s attorney general.
Maryland’s request was filed Tuesday as part of underlying litigation launched by Republican-led states that claim individual mandates under the Affordable Care Act are unconstitutional.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the mandate in 2012 but last June, Sessions said provisions in the bill, including those involving protections for pre-existing conditions, should be removed.
By September, Maryland responded to Sessions: it asked the court to find parts of the Affordable Care Act constitutional and to rule that Sessions, as attorney general, must broadly enforce it with his powers.
A loyalist to the president, Whitaker has frequently criticized Special Counsel’ Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe of Russia malfeasance in the 2016 election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign.
In light of his past statements, Whitaker’s appointment immediately touched off a firestorm because he now will directly oversee the Mueller investigation.
Sessions himself may soon have a chance to weigh in on the issue.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., submitted a letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday requesting Sessions testify before the committee about why he was “forced out of his position.”
“The attorney general has also not yet answered all of the committee’s questions about the firing of FBI director James Comey or Russian interference in the 2016 election,” Feinstein wrote.