On Friday, NPR reported that the clash between Congress and Attorney General William Barr's Justice Department over a federal law prohibiting female genital mutilation is escalating.
The DOJ is declining to defend the law after it was struck down by a federal judge last November, on the grounds that the federal government lacked constitutional authority to impose such a ban. While the DOJ does not oppose the law per se — Solicitor General Noel Francisco said that the practice should be "universally condemned" in a letter to Congress — they have stated that they do not believe they have an effective constitutional counterargument to the ruling that would allow them to appeal.
Congress disagrees. They have retained lawyers from the Georgetown University Law Center's Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, arguing that lawmakers have an interest in ensuring the law is enforced.
The DOJ has refused to defend laws in court before when it believes it cannot mount a credible constitutional argument. One notable example is when the agency refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which excluded same-sex couples from most federal marriage benefits. The law was ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor.
Female genital mutilation, a practice that has been performed on some 200 million women worldwide but is most common in Africa, varies in how it is practiced, but generally involves the cutting of external genital organs on baby girls. The federal prohibition was passed in 1996, and 28 states have their own bans.