AG Sessions defends remark that he’s ‘amazed’ a judge ‘on an island in the Pacific’ can block Trump’s immigration order

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. (AP Photo/Molly Riley, File)


(CNN) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Friday he was not disrespecting Hawaii or a judge in the state when he said he was “amazed” that the official was able to block President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban halting immigration from several majority Muslim countries.

“I wasn’t criticizing the judge or the island,” he told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on “At This Hour.” “I think it’s a fabulous place and had a granddaughter born there.”

“But I got to tell you — it’s a point worth making that a single sitting judge out of 600, 700 district judges can issue an order stopping a presidential executive order that I believe is fully constitutional, designed to protect the United States of America from terrorist attacks.”

He added, “I was just raising the point of that issue of a single judge taking such a dramatic action and the impact it can have.”

Sessions told “The Mark Levin Show” earlier this week that he was “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.”

The attorney general’s statement, which was first flagged by CNN’s KFile, garnered widespread criticism, including from Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, who tweeted: “Hawaii was built on the strength of diversity & immigrant experiences- including my own. Jeff Sessions’ comments are ignorant & dangerous.”

Despite the criticism, Sessions said he would not word his comment differently.

“I don’t know that I said anything I would want to phrase differently,” he said Friday. “We’re going to defend the presidential order. We believe it’s constitutional. We believe there is specific statutory authority for everything in that order that he did.”

“It only delayed six nations who have had real terrorists connections for 90 days in the immigration process,” Sessions added.
Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly are touring the southern border and met with law enforcement personnel from several federal agencies.



(CNN) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions said this week he was amazed that a judge in Hawaii could block President Donald Trump’s executive order halting immigration from several majority Muslim countries.

Sessions made the comments in an interview with “The Mark Levin Show” Tuesday evening that was put online Wednesday.

“We’ve got cases moving in the very, very liberal Ninth Circuit, who, they’ve been hostile to the order,” Sessions said. “We won a case in Virginia recently that was a nicely-written order that just demolished, I thought, all the arguments that some of the other people have been making. We are confident that the President will prevail on appeal and particularly in the Supreme Court, if not the Ninth Circuit. So this is a huge matter. 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.”

Last month, a federal judge in Hawaii, Judge Derrick Watson, issued an order that blocked Trump’s ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority countries. The Department of Justice is currently appealing the decision.

Both Senators from Hawaii responded to Sessions’ comments.

“The suggestion that being from Hawaii somehow disqualifies Judge Watson from performing his Constitutional duty is dangerous, ignorant, and prejudiced. I am frankly dumbfounded that our nation’s top lawyer would attack our independent judiciary. But we shouldn’t be surprised. This is just the latest in the Trump Administration’s attacks against the very tenets of our Constitution and democracy.” – Senator Mazie K. Hirono

“Mr. Attorney General: You voted for that judge. And that island is called Oahu. It’s my home. Have some respect.” – Senator Brian Schatz via Twitter

Justice Department spokesperson Ian D. Prior clarified Sessions’ remarks in a statement on Thursday.

“Hawaii is, in fact, an island in the Pacific — a beautiful one where the Attorney General’s granddaughter was born,” he said. “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.”

Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin issued the following statement:

“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.”


In the interview on Tuesday, Sessions also added that judges shouldn’t “psychoanalyze” Trump when he was asked about potential judges Trump would appoint.

“I think our President, having seen some of these really weird interpretations of the executive orders that he’s put out, I think he’s more understanding now that we need judges who follow the law, not make law,” Sessions said.

“The judges don’t get to psychoanalyze the President to see if the order he issues is lawful. It’s either lawful or it’s not. I think that it will be real important for America to have judges in the model of Judge (Neil) Gorsuch and (the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin) Scalia, people who serve under the law, under the Constitution, not above it, and they are faithful to the law. They honor it and don’t try to remake it as they’d like it to be.”

Tal Kopan contributed reporting to this story.

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