The attorney general says he’s restoring the rule of law that’s been almost lost in ‘dust’ under Obama.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions blasted federal judges Thursday for resisting policies like President Donald Trump’s travel ban executive order and his decision to wind down the federal program giving quasi-legal status to undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.
In remarks to a conference at the conservative Heritage Foundation, Sessions boasted of a wide array of policy changes and retooled legal arguments pleasing to conservative legal activists, but warned that judges were obstructing some of those efforts through disruptive orders that are often nationwide in scope.
“Some judges have failed to respect our representatives in Congress and failed to appropriately respect the prerogatives and perspectives of the executive branch,” the attorney general said.
Sessions specifically called out a federal district court judge in Brooklyn, Nicholas Garaufis, for decrying as “heartless” the administration’s decision to end the program for so-called Dreamers, also know as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA. The attorney general described as “generous” the planned phrase-out of the program and faulted the judge for straying beyond the legal issues involved.
“Rather than address that question, the court said the government ‘can’t come into court to espouse a position that is heartless. ‘ He didn’t say it was unlawful. He said, ‘I don’t like your policy,'” Sessions said. “A judge’s comments on policy like this is offensive, and it’s disrespectful of the legislative and executive branches and to the fine attorneys in the Department of Justice….The Constitution gives judges no right to veto a president’s actions because they disagree on policy grounds.”
No judge has yet blocked the administration’s move to end DACA, although Clinton appointee Garaufis and other judges have issued orders requiring the Trump administration to detail more of its decision-making process. Appeals courts on both coasts acting at the request of the Justice Department have halted that fact-finding, at least for now.
Sessions also suggested in stark terms that the Justice Department and the Trump administration were saving the republic from a descent into lawlessness under President Barack Obama.
“Many indeed think this election was pretty important. Without what’s happening today, the rule of law may have well be lost behind us in a cloud of dust,” Sessions declared. “It’s a very significant election I think….for the legal system.”
Sessions’ critique of judges included a particular focus on what he said were “activist nationwide injunctions” through which courts exceeded their authority by blocking policies across the country or around the globe, rather than in a particular judicial district or for particular parties before the court.
“Forgive me for feeling strongly about this,” the attorney general said. “Today, more and more judges are issuing nationwide injunctions and in effect single judges….are making themselves super-legislators for the entire United States…..A single judge’s decision can enjoin the entire federal government from acting. It’s an extreme step. Too often, district court judges are doing it without following the law.”
Sessions referred in particular to rulings against the president’s so-called travel ban policy, which faced nationwide or global injunctions issued by courts in Washington state, Maryland and Hawaii.
“It was a reasonable order,” the attorney general insisted. “My lawyer said we’re going to win in the Supreme Court.”
Unmentioned in Sessions speech was that he and other Republicans were generally supportive of a Texas federal judge’s order issued in 2015 that imposed a nationwide injunction against Obama’s effort to expand the DACA program and start a similar program for undocumented parents of U.S. citizens, although the Justice Department and a smattering of legal academics raised concerns at that time about the national scope of the order.
A federal appeals court upheld the ruling and the Supreme Court deadlocked in the case, leaving the injunction in place.
Sessions noted some recent court rulings have gone the administration’s way. He cited the 2nd Circuit decision halting discovery in the DACA case and a San Francisco federal district court judge’s ruling Wednesday rebuffing a request by liberal states to force the administration to resume Obamacare costsharing subsidy payments.
“A nice victory, even on the West Coast,” the attorney general quipped.
Sessions also defended the administration’s position in that case. “There was no appropriation by Congress. The president doesn’t have the power to appropriate money. Where did this ever get in anybody’s head? That is not an appropriate thing. I am proud that the president has put an end to that. ”
The attorney general devoted the bulk of his remarks to highlighting a litany of actions the administration has taken on the legal front, including defending voter ID laws, settling pending lawsuits over delays in approval of nonprofit status for conservative groups by the IRS, and filing a brief at the Supreme Court in defense of a Christian baker’s right to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. Sessions again framed the issue in the cake case as one of religious freedom, although the department’s brief paints it as a free expression issue.
As Sessions checked off the legal moves, the several dozens leaders of conservative legal foundations and organizations in attendance often met the announcements with applause.
While Justice Department officials were initially hesitant to confirm an inquiry into alleged discrimination against Asian-American students at elite universities, Sessions pointed to the effort Thursday as one of his department’s achievements. “A university cannot discriminate against applicants based on their race. That is fundamental,” the attorney general said.
As Sessions decried judicial activism, he also took a verbal swing at Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, faulting her for a 2001 speech in which she appeared to endorse the view that “there is no objective stance but only a series of perspectives.”
“It’s a dangerous thought and I don’t think it’s consistent with our heritage,” the attorney general said.