A series of unexpected events has thrust an East High graduate to the center of a national political firestorm this week.
August E. Flentje will argue on behalf of the Justice Department that a federal judge in Washington State incorrectly overturned President Donald Trump’s effort to ban immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
After Trump fired the acting attorney general last week, Flentje rose to the top of the appeals lawyers in the Justice Department. His father, Edward Flentje, a professor at Wichita State University, said his son has argued appellate cases before but has never argued a case before the Supreme Court.
Flentje has worked previously on high-profile cases, such as the legalization of gay marriage and the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, but his father said that luck played a significant role that landed him at the center of this case that is scheduled to be broadcast live on CNN.
Sen. Jeff Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General was delayed so that he could cast a deciding vote for Betsy DeVos to become education secretary. And the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, was fired by Trump after she said she would not instruct the Justice Department to defend the immigration ban.
Then the justice department wrote, in a footnote to its legal brief, that its two top lawyers, Acting Solicitor General Noel Francisco and Acting Associate Attorney General Chad Readler, would not participate in the case either because of a conflict of interest. The two lawyers left Jones Day law firm, one of the largest firms in the country, a few weeks ago to take positions with the Justice Department. But Jones Day filed a motion opposed to Trump’s executive order.
That left Flentje, as the special counsel to the assistant attorney general, as the highest ranking lawyer on the case.
Flentje will argue the case over the phone, since he is based out of Washington, D.C., and two of the judges are in California and one is in Hawaii, according to his father. The case is scheduled to be streamed live on the court’s website and carried live on CNN at 5 p.m. Central Time.
Flentje’s father said he puts his personal beliefs aside to fulfill the duties of his role. “He’s a civil servant, and I think he’s been very careful,” his dad said. “We have family members protesting what’s going on, but he plays it pretty close and I think has a deep sense of duty, representing to the best of his ability the president within the law and the Constitution.”
Flentje has previously served as a clerk to former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole. In high school, and while at Georgetown Law School, he worked for former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum.
As a child, August Flentje was a Boy Scout who attended programs at Duke University for gifted children. In high school, Flentje listened to alternative music, such as Talking Heads, according to his mom, Gloria Farha Flentje, and traveled to Washington, D.C., to compete in the Math Counts competition.
Flentje majored in politics at Princeton after graduating from East High. At Princeton, he took creative writing classes with Joyce Carol Oates, which his parents said has complemented his analytical side.
He told his dad, who once asked why he gave up math for the law, “the law is logical,” Flentje recalled.
Gloria Farha Flentje is a retired lawyer from Wichita who once was the lead counsel for Boeing and then Spirit AeroSystems. She believes it’s likely the case will be appealed to the full appeals court after a ruling by three judges, or it could be appealed to the Supreme Court directly afterward.
“I don’t think either side is going to give up,” Gloria Flentje said.
Flentje’s 15-page brief in the case argues on behalf of the Trump administration that the president has the sole power to enforce immigration, not the states, and that even if there were problems with certain parts of the executive order, the previous decision to stop it entirely “is vastly overbroad.”
Both of Flentje’s parents read the 15-page legal brief.
“I was impressed with its clarity and brevity and told him so,” his dad said. “And I wished him good luck.”
Flentje lives with his wife and children in Washington, D.C.