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Department of Justice Officials Await Trump Transition With Uncertainty

As inauguration day draws ever closer for President-elect Donald Trump, questions about the future of the federal government under the new administration are still without definitive answers. With the recent nomination hearings for Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for U.S. Attorney General, those questions seem particularly troubling for the current Department of Justice.

“We can’t speak for the next administration and what they choose to do,” said Karen Lash, a Justice Department official. “I do believe the incoming administration will care about getting homeless veterans into housing, unemployed Americans back to work, protecting victims of domestic violence or elder abuse, and really ensuring that the systems of government work as best and as efficiently as they possibly can. “Ensuring access to justice, a central pillar of our democracy, is just fundamentally nonpartisan.”

At the same time, some of the Department’s more left-leaning wings, such as the Civil Rights Division, might be treading thinner ice. Many of the investigations that have been opened under President Obama remain unresolved, including those into unconstitutional conduct by city police departments and groups carrying out LGBT and racial hate crimes. If new lawyers are appointed under the incoming Trump administration, those cases may be abandoned by the federal government altogether.

“I think it’s really about DOJ’s role in all of it that is most in question,” said Vanita Gupta, current chief of the Civil Rights Division. “It’s hard to imagine how the entrenched concerns around policing will be remedied without the important role of the Justice Department in those conversations. My hope is that will be allowed to continue because I think it’s very vital and important. It seems hard to turn back the clock, though. It really does.”

With some 1,268,011 people in the U.S. licensed and practicing law as of 2012, most of the current officials remain optimistic that civil rights will continue to guide the Department of Justice, no matter who is in charge.

Soon, “a new team will be running the department, and it will be up to them to decide whether they want to continue the policies that we’ve implemented in recent years. But I’m optimistic,” said Obama’s Deputy Attorney General, Sally Yates. “I know — because I’ve witnessed it myself — that individual accountability isn’t a Democratic principle or a Republican principle, but is instead a core value of our criminal justice system that perseveres regardless of which party is in power.”