In a speech to a conservative legal group Saturday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions blasted federal judges for issuing nationwide injunctions that have blocked President Donald Trump from enacting his policies on everything from sanctuary cities to transgender troops serving in the military.
“In truth, this is a question of raw power—of who gets to decide the policy questions facing America: our elected representatives, our elected president or unelected lifetime-appointed federal judges,” Mr. Sessions told a gathering of the Federalist Society. “Today, in effect, single district court judges are going beyond proper adjudicative bounds and making themselves super-legislators for the entire United States.”
Nationwide injunctions are court rulings that prohibit the government from enforcing laws against anyone in the country before a trial, including those who are not a party to the lawsuit. For example, a nationwide injunction blocking Mr. Trump’s efforts to strip federal grants from sanctuary cities extended to cities that were not plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Since taking office last year, Mr. Trump has been hit with 22 nationwide injunctions. That exceeds the number of injunctions issued by the nation’s courts in the past 200 years, according to Mr. Sessions.
In roughly one year, judges have issued nationwide injunctions halting Mr. Trump’s efforts to implement a travel ban, phase out DACA, withhold federal grants from sanctuary cities, reinstate the ban on transgender troops and change the Obamacare contraceptive-coverage mandate.
Other presidents have battled courts over nationwide injunctions, however. For example, President Obama faced an injunction over his 2014 plan to expand amnesty for immigrants facing deportation. While Mr. Trump may have racked up the most nationwide injunctions, Mr. Sessions said Presidents Obama and Clinton were just behind him.
“This is not a political or a partisan issue,” he said. “It is a constitutional issue and a rule of law issue. This has been a problem for administrations of both parties.”
As the judges order nationwide injunctions, they are ruling based on their personal opinions and not federal law, Mr. Sessions said.
In September, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York called the Trump administration “heartless” for refusing to extend the October deadline for DACA recipients to renew their status.
“Not illegal,” Mr. Sessions said. “Not unlawful. Heartless.”
“That’s wrong,” he continued. “Judges should issue opinions — legal opinions that pertain to legal questions of the case, not to politics or policy or personal sentiment.”
Mr. Sessions said the Department of Justice is “eager” to challenge the nationwide injunctions before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Trump administration has some preliminary success fighting the nationwide injunctions in the Supreme Court. In December, the high court allowed a third version of the travel ban to go into effect while the legal fight against it continues. That same month, the Supreme Court temporarily stayed a federal judge’s order demanding the government turn over more documents regarding its decision to wind down DACA.
Mr. Sessions said nationwide injunctions are dangerous because they encourage so-called forum shopping. He said that is the reason most of the lawsuits against Trump administration were filed in California and Hawaii where there are more liberal judges, while challenges to the Obama administration were usually filed in more conservative places like Texas.
Other concerns, Mr. Sessions highlighted, included conflicting rulings when cases are filed in multiple courts across the country and the fact that plaintiffs to have win just once in order to implement a nationwide injunction whereas the government has to win at every appellate level in order to overturn one.
“We hope the Supreme Court will resolve this issue,” Mr. Sessions said. “There can be no question that courts should put an end to nationwide injunctions and keep activists on both sides of the aisle from paralyzing federal government.”
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at email@example.com.
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