AG Sessions criticizes judge from 'an island in the Pacific,' raising the ire of Hawaiians
Jeff Sessions. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.
Officials in Hawaii are firing back after Attorney General Jeff Sessions criticized a judge “sitting on an island in the Pacific” for an injunction blocking President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration.
“I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power,” Sessions said.
Sessions was apparently referring to U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson, who in March issued a preliminary injunction and then a permanent injunction blocking Trump’s revised travel ban.
Among those raising concern is Nadine Ando, president of the Hawaii State Bar Association. She told the Washington Post that Sessions offended Hawaiians and was dismissive of a federal judge who is “not some outlier judge sitting in the middle of nowhere.”
“Excuse me?” Ando said. “We have been a state for 58 years. We’re not just some island.”
Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin tweeted a photo of the law that established Hawaii as a state, and issued a statement (PDF). It reads: “President Trump previously called a federal judge in California a so-called judge. Now U.S. Attorney General Sessions appears to dismiss a federal judge in Hawaii as just a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific. Our Constitution created a separation of powers in the United States for a reason. Our federal courts, established under Article III of the Constitution, are co-equal partners with Congress and the president. It is disappointing AG Sessions does not acknowledge that.”
The state’s U.S. senators also criticized Sessions, who voted to confirm Watson as part of a unanimous vote in 2013, the New York Times pointed out. He is the only federal judge of native Hawaiian descent, and he attended Harvard Law School with former President Barack Obama and the new Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch.
The Department of Justice later issued a statement that clarified Sessions’ remarks. “Hawaii is, in fact, an island in the Pacific—a beautiful one where the attorney general’s granddaughter was born,” the statement read. “The point, however, is that there is a problem when a flawed opinion by a single judge can block the president’s lawful exercise of authority to keep the entire country safe.”