The nation’s chief law enforcement officer on Thursday blasted federal judges who have thwarted or criticized Trump administration policies, accusing them of trying to veto the president’s decisions because they disagree with him politically.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said U.S. district court judges are failing to respect Congress and the “prerogatives and responsibilities of the executive branch” in issuing their orders, namely those who have temporarily blocked policies like President Donald Trump’s travel ban from taking effect.
Sessions took aim at a Brooklyn judge who decried as “heartless” the Trump administration’s recent move to end a program protecting some young immigrants from deportation.
“He didn’t say it was unlawful. He said, ‘I don’t like your policy,’ in effect,” 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.”
It was an unusual commentary from the nation’s top prosecutor, but it’s not without precedent. Following his remarks, Sessions answered questions from former Attorney General Edwin Meese III, who was known for intense attacks on what he saw as judicial activism in the 1980s.
And it was hardly the first time Sessions has criticized the judiciary, in keeping with Trump’s own intensely personal attacks on judges who have not ruled in his favor.
In April, Sessions drew the ire of Hawaii’s Democratic lawmakers after saying he was “amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific” could stop Trump’s travel ban, a point Sessions reiterated Thursday. Hawaii was one of three states where a judge issued what Sessions described as “activist nationwide injunctions” blocking the policy, which attempts to bar travelers from certain predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States.
“Forgive me for feeling strongly about this,” Sessions said, his voice rising. “In effect, single judges are making themselves super-legislators for the entire United States.”
Yet as an Alabama senator, Sessions and other Republicans supported a Texas judge’s injunction blocking an Obama-era immigration program that spared some immigrants from deportation. Sessions said Thursday he was confident Trump administration policies would prevail in higher courts.
The American Bar Association fired back, saying in a statement that Sessions had disregarded the constitutional independence of the judicial branch.
“Judges should not be attacked or diminished by another branch of government just because they do not rule in its favor,” the organization said. “Judicial independence is critical to maintaining the rule of law in our nation.”