Sally Yates, former Deputy Attorney General of the United States, will be this year’s speaker for the Class Day ceremonies at Harvard Law School. Class Day will take place on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. Yates was selected by representatives of this year’s graduating class.
Yates spent nearly three decades working in the U.S. Justice Department. She began her career as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Georgia. She rose to national prominence when she was the lead prosecutor in the case of Eric Rudolph, who placed a bomb in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Games. The explosion killed two and injured more than 100 people.
In 2010, President Barack Obama ’91 named her U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. Yates was the first woman to hold that position. While there, then-Attorney General Eric Holder asked her to serve as Vice Chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee.
In 2015, President Obama named her Deputy Attorney General. She served in the position – the second-highest-ranking job in the Justice Department – under Attorney General Eric Holder and Attorney General Loretta Lynch ’81.
After Donald Trump was elected U.S. President, Yates agreed to serve as Acting Attorney General. She was dismissed from the Trump administration in January after she instructed DOJ staff not to enforce Trump’s first executive order on travel and immigration, writing in a letter that she was not convinced it was lawful.
A native of Georgia, Yates is a graduate of the University of Georgia, with a degree in journalism, and a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law, where she was executive editor of the Georgia Law Review.
Yates visited Harvard Law School in January and spoke to students about recent strides in criminal justice reform. She told students that both Holder and Lynch had achieved significant reforms in federal sentencing, and that she was hopeful that momentum would continue into the Trump administration. “Support for criminal justice reform isn’t limited to Democrats or liberals or any single interest group,” she said. “Rather, there is a strong, bipartisan consensus, from both ends of the spectrum and every point in between, that we need to adjust our approach. And that’s because fiscal realities, public safety, and basic fairness demand it.”
At Harvard Law School, Yates encouraged students to be active in criminal justice reform: “As current and future leaders in a profession dedicated to the integrity of the law, I hope that you will let your voices be heard and that you will demand meaningful change, and most importantly that you will act at every opportunity to effect the changes that are required to make our communities safer and our system more faithful to its core principle of justice.”