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The Trump Administration’s ability to enact the voters’ will is impeded by a continual stream of nationwide court injunctions, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a group of federal and state judges, lawyers and other legal experts in Des Moines today.
It’s a theme Sessions has pressed for much of this year, saying government “needs to run the table” to enact policies that one judge can delay.
“We’re defending the Constitutional structure against nationwide injunctions,” Sessions said in a speech in which he praised U.S. Department of Justice lawyers for working hard and judges who provide good justice, are honest and able and who provide consistency with legal values culled from British traditions dating to when this country consisted of colonies.
The nationwide injunctions to which he referred were issued by federal judges in one district but carried weight nationally. Think travel ban injunctions. Or, injunctions against federal crackdowns on sanctuary cities.
Sessions was speaking at an Eighth Circuit Judicial Conference whose other scheduled speakers include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and the chairmen of the U.S. Senate and House Judiciary Committees, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-Virginia).
More than 100 protesters gathered outside the Iowa Events Center where the conference was held, calling for immigration and minority justice, and protesting Sessions, Gorsuch and the Trump Administration, in general. Moreover, the fact that injunctions are sought indicate that many Americans find the courts as the solution to problems.
Sessions assailed what he called federal judges who follow a personal agenda and delay executive actions taken by President Trump. Their moves result in harmful criticisms of the president, judiciary and legislative branches of government, he said.
“The courts must respect the role of the other two co-equal branches,” Sessions said. That means not weighing in on every public policy, he said. Doing so would be a threat to the separation of powers in the Constitution, he said. “We must not allow that to happen,” he said.
“Judges aren’t sent from Olympus,” he said. “They aren’t always correct.”
He noted, for example, that it took 18 months for the Supreme Court to lift an injunction against Trump’s travel ban, restricting entry into the U.S. for persons from eight countries the government accuses of harboring terrorists.
That 5-to-4 Supreme Court vote shows the disparity in legal thought that makes so many Americans interest in what the judiciary does.
In another case Sessions cited, the city of Chicago won an injunction in April to keep the Trump Administration from withholding federal funds from the city after Chicago declared itself a sanctuary city, protecting immigrants from mass deportations.
Gorsuch didn’t talk about court cases during the Des Moines conference, spending a lot of time talking about his influences — notably former Supreme Court justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy, both of whom he served as a clerk — and the behind-the-scenes collegiality among the Supreme Court justices.
But responding to a question by Lavenski Smith, chief judge of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and the sole questioner in a Q&A format, Gorsuch said he believes in having independent judges and juries who uphold citizens’ rights. He said being able to go to a single judge to correct a wrong is good, especially for the least among us. “And I hope we don’t lose that,” Gorsuch said.
He said following the rule of law and separation of powers separates the United States from other countries. “The rule of law really is one of the wonders of the world,” Gorsuch said.
Grassley said during a break in the conference, while speaking with reporters, that he would not want to rule out completely the ability of a federal district judge to issue a nationwide injunction. But, he had concerns.
“There are some exceptions where it ought be used,” Grassley said. “But I think it’s been used in too many cases where it’s not justified.”
On another matter, Grassley said during his afternoon conference session with Goodlatte he expects no Democrats to vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Every Republican vote would be needed to confirm Kavanaugh because Republicans hold a 51-to-49 majority in the Senate, but with Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) at home to be treated for cancer.
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