Attorney General Jeff Sessions furthered his war of words with federal judges who have thwarted Trump administration policy in court in a speech Tuesday, decrying the growing number of injunctions as a “serious matter of coequal branches.”
“The judicial branch is not superior to the executive branch,” Sessions told an annual gathering of state attorneys general in Washington.
“We’ve had 20 in one year,” Sessions said of the blocks federal judges have placed on controversial policies amid lawsuits, including the various travel bans, the prohibition on transgender people serving in the military and the administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“That’s as many as President Obama had in eight years and more than any president in history,” Sessions said. “This is a serious matter of coequal branches.”
In speeches throughout his first year, Sessions has slammed “activist judges” who “effectively invalidate” Americans’ votes, and the progressive lawyers who “judge shopped” for favorable outcomes.
Tuesday, Sessions lamented a California federal judge who temporarily halted the administration’s plan to cede DACA renewals and vowed to push forward after a setback in the case earlier in the week at the Supreme Court.
On Monday the Supreme Court declined the administration’s request to take a rare step and bypass the appellate courts to hear the challenge to the President’s DACA rollback. In doing so, the court allowed to stand Judge William Alsup’s January ruling that the Trump administration must resume renewals in the immigration program, rendering moot a March deadline initially announced by Sessions himself.
“That injunction by a single federal district judge was stopping, I believe, the lawful operations of the United States government,” Sessions said Tuesday. “I am confident we’re going to prevail ultimately on it and we’re going to continue to work at that.”
Sessions did not hold fire Tuesday for judges who have stymied multiple versions of President Donald Trump’s travel ban – a favorite foil for the attorney general, who once said he was “amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific,” Hawaii federal Judge Derrick Watson, could stop the presidential directive cold.
Lower courts had partially blocked the third iteration of that executive order, which places restrictions on travel from foreign nationals from eight countries, but in December the Supreme Court allowed it to go fully into effect pending appeal. Earlier versions had been enjoined in left-leaning jurisdictions.
“Nationwide injunctions like the one in that case are a growing problem for the country,” Sessions said. “We’ve had the Supreme Court three times in the last several months overrule state court overreach. It’s terrible to have to do that.”
“We’re not acting irrationally, emotionally. We are carrying out the responsibilities, I believe, that are the duties of the executive branch of this government, and we’re going to defend these powers in court, and to not defend them could yield into an excessive view of judicial superiority,” Sessions said.
The use of national injunctions didn’t begin until the late 20th century and was rare until the end of President Barack Obama’s second term, when Republican attorneys general started seeking them to block policy, according to legal experts.
Then a senator from Alabama, Sessions had no complaints in 2016 when a Texas judge enjoined a set of Obama administration immigration policies.
“Thankfully, over a year ago, Judge Andrew Hanen in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued an injunction that stopped the Obama administration from proceeding with its lawless immigration system,” Sessions said in a statement, according to WBRC in Alabama.
CNN’s Ariane de Vogue contributed to this report.