U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions used a speech Thursday in front of a conservative think tank to criticize judges across the country who have issued rulings blocking President Donald Trump’s policies.
But Sessions also used the occasion to highlight the administration’s win earlier this week in a case before a federal judge in San Francisco.
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria of the Northern District of California on Wednesday declined to force the Trump administration to make critical payments to health insurers under the Affordable Care Act. Chhabria found that although the ACA requires insurance companies be paid, it’s unclear whether Congress has actually set aside money for these payments.
“Yesterday, [Associate Attorney General] Rachel Brand came in and announced a judge in the Ninth Circuit had ruled with us on that attack on the refusal to continue to pay these monies out,” Sessions told the crowd gathered at The Heritage Foundation’s biannual Legal Strategy Forum. “So that’s a nice victory even on the West Coast,” said Sessions to a round of laughter.
In contrast to Chhabria’s ruling, Sessions said some district court judges are making policy judgments instead of legal decisions in issuing their opinions. He said in doing so, judges have “failed to respect” elected representatives and “the prerogatives of the executive.”
“You don’t start favoring one side over another,” Sessions said. “Those who ignore this duty and who follow their own policy views erode the rule of law, create bad precedent and undermine, importantly, the public respect necessary for courts to be able to function effectively.”
Sessions pointed to U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York as a “striking example” of this phenomenon. In a hearing last month on a challenge to the administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, Garaufis said the policy was “heartless.”
Sessions told the crowd at The Heritage Foundation that Garaufis’ statement was disrespectful to the executive branch and to the lawyers at the U.S. Department of Justice.
“‘Heartless.’ He didn’t say it was unlawful,” Sessions said, to light laughter from the audience. “It is emphatically not the province or duty of the courts to say whether a policy is compassionate. That is for the people.”
That case is ongoing in Brooklyn, where Garaufis ordered a new round of briefings Wednesday.
Sessions also criticized district judges like those in Maryland and Hawaii who have taken what he said was a “dramatic step” in issuing nationwide injunctions against policies like Trump’s travel ban executive orders.
“Today more and more judges are issuing nationwide injunctions and, in effect, single judges … are making themselves super legislators for the entire United States,” he said.
Sessions said this was particularly worrisome because there are hundreds of district court judges.
Said Sessions, “That makes the need for good judges to stick to the law even more important.”