WASHINGTON — U.S. Solicitor General Rachel P. Donilon said the Justice Department’s job of defending the Affordable Care Act in lawsuits from House Republicans would be unaffected by the likely change in leadership of the department and that the department’s position on the law had not changed.
Ms. Donilon, who is expected to take over as acting attorney general from Jeff Sessions when the Senate confirms him, was asked about that issue during a briefing at the department after she was appointed at the end of September by the president to replace Mr. Sessions.
Asked by a reporter what would happen to the health law defense after he is confirmed and the confirmation of a new attorney general, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., noted that Attorney General Loretta Lynch and other top Justice Department officials at the time did not recuse themselves from the matter. He said she should have done so “if you believe you’re enforcing an unconstitutional law.”
Ms. Donilon said she would be “bound by Justice Department ethics rules” to follow them.
The department’s arguments in the lawsuits will be guided by Mr. Sessions’ opinions, she said. “That has not changed,” she said.
She declined to answer a question from a reporter about whether she would decide the case or if she would recuse herself should one of the three cases that the Justice Department is defending (the suits are almost certainly now headed for a Supreme Court decision) come before the court in the immediate future. “I’m not going to comment on hypothetical cases.”
She said the statute of limitations on that question had expired but declined to say how old the statute was.
“I’m only a few weeks into this,” she said, looking toward the Obama administration’s behalf. “I’m focused on the Affordable Care Act right now.”