An order indefinitely recusing a sitting Immigration Judge from hearing cases involving Iranian nationals has been challenged in a lawsuit. The case centers on Judge Ashley Tabaddor’s Iranian heritage and her participation in the Iranian-American community while she serves as an immigration judge. The suit challenges the Department of Justice (DOJ) on the grounds that the order violates the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Tabaddor’s complaint is that the order violates her right (and those of other immigration judges) to participate in activities on her own time, and particularly violates the DOJ’s written ethics policies that encourage judges to engage in civic activities. The National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) is supporting Tabaddor’s suit, and seeks to force the DOJ to lift the order, as well as “cease enforcement of a policy that is motivated by discriminatory animus and chills public discourse and engagement by federal Immigration Judges in a potentially wide array of civic, religious, volunteer and other activities,” according to the official release by the NAIJ.


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The compliant also notes that the recusal order violates regulations governing how recusal determinations can be made. They cannot be imposed by DOJ officials arbitrarily, but can be made only by the presiding Immigration Judge on a case-by-case basis. 

The official complaint of Tabaddor v. Holder describes the outset of this argument:

“In the summer of 2012, Judge Tabaddor was invited to attend an event held by the White House Office of Public Engagement entitled a “Roundtable with Iranian-American Community Leaders.” Judge Tabaddor sought approval for use of one day of annual leave to attend the event, and although she was ultimately approved to attend the event, the Agency recommended that Judge Tabaddor be recused from all cases, and cease to be assigned any cases, involving Iranian nationals, stating that Judge Tabaddor’s association with the Iranian-American community and invitation to the attend the Roundtable event created an appearance of impropriety. After Judge Tabaddor protested the recommendation, among other things, the recommendation was elevated to an order.” 

Overall, one of the main issues at hand is the DOJ’s arbitrary determination that an Immigration Judge cannot fairly discriminate in cases based on his or her heritage and public engagements with the community. The DOJ will have to answer for its alleged racial profiling and grossly discriminate practices towards Tabaddor, as judged by her and the NAIJ.