Ms. Yates is basing her defiance not on the law but on her own moral and political misgivings. Her differences are about policy, not legality. If she felt she couldn’t in good conscience defend Mr. Trump’s order, the honorable decision would have been to resign. Instead, she decided to offer the equivalent of a press release advertising her legal services as Attorney General to the next Democratic President.
Mr. Trump was obliged to dismiss Ms. Yates to defend the integrity of the executive branch. The U.S. has a “unitary executive” whose functioning depends on a line of political accountability that ends with the President. If cabinet officers can ignore orders based on policy disagreements, democratic accountability is impossible.