DES MOINES — Addressing a room of judges and lawyers from seven central states, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday assailed federal judges he said have obstructed the president’s agenda.
Sessions and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch were among the speakers at the Eighth Circuit Judicial Conference held at the Iowa Events Center in downtown Des Moines.
Sessions used a sizable portion of his 26-minute address to criticize some federal judges’ nationwide rulings against policies implemented by President Donald Trump’s administration, including a ban on travel from several Muslim-majority countries and the withholding of federal grants to cities that do not cooperate with immigration officials.
The travel ban injunction was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I’m the top lawyer for the executive branch. It’s a coequal branch. It’s entitled to proper respect from the legislative and the judicial branch, too,” he said. “And of course judges aren’t sent from Olympus. They are not always correct. Indeed, our appeals in a number of cases have borne fruit in total or in part.”
Sessions said the rulings that eventually were overturned were costly to taxpayers and delayed actions taken by the administration. And he said those initial rulings provoked criticism of the Trump administration from the media and advocacy groups.
“I may have withdrawal symptoms when this thing is over. The constant criticism kind of wakes you up in the morning. ‘What are they going to say today,’” Sessions said. “I’ve got lawyers, 100,000 people in the Department of Justice who represent all these federal agencies with all their millions of employees and I’m expected to know everything that’s happening. And when it doesn’t get right, they’re going to put me in jail. That’s kind of sometimes the way I feel about it.”
Sessions criticized federal administrative law judges’ use of nationwide injunctions, which were implemented in the cases involving the travel ban and “sanctuary cities.” Sessions said judges are using nationwide injunctions more often.
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U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican from Iowa who chairs the Senate Judicial Committee, provided similar thoughts on the use of nationwide injunctions.
“I would not want the widespread use of recent years to become a practice,” he said. “There’s some exceptions where it ought to be used, but I think it’s been used in too many cases where it’s not justified.”
Sessions spoke briefly about Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said he thinks Democrats are asking for more documentation than they need in the confirmation process.
“It’s an impeccable resume by any measure. He has experience at the highest levels of the private sector, the executive branch and the judiciary. He has won respect at every level,” Sessions said of Kavanaugh. “Those records and his hearing will confirm what Judge Kavanaugh’s reputation is, that he will be a truly great Supreme Court justice.”
Grassley said his committee is in the process of obtaining roughly 1 million documents from Kavanaugh’s previous jobs in the federal government. He said it may take until the end of October to acquire them all.
Democrats have been pushing for the public release of documents that have been termed “committee confidential.” Grassley said “eventually most of those will probably be made public,” but they must first go through another clearance step.
The senator intends to hold confirmation hearings Labor Day week.
Sessions also highlighted the Trump administration’s appointment of judges to other federal courts. In addition to the two Supreme Court justices, Trump has appointed 24 circuit court judges — more than any other president at this point in his presidency since the circuit court system was created in 1891, according to the New York Times.
Protesters gathered outside the Iowa Events Center and earlier Friday outside a meeting of the Des Moines Rotary Club, where Sessions also spoke, to object to the administration’s policies on immigration, LGBTQ discrimination and voter rights.
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“I fail to see Iowa values or American values in what Sessions is doing,” said Hugh Espey, director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, in a statement.
Gorsuch spoke for roughly 40 minutes in a q-and-a format, in which he talked about his background and influences.
One question was about the role judges and lawyers play in protecting the rule of law.
“I think the rule of law is one of the great things that separates this country from almost any other on Earth,” he said.