WASHINGTON (CN) - Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday said a New York federal judge was "highly offensive and disrespectful" when he called the Trump administration's refusal to move a deadline in its decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program "heartless."
"With respect: it is emphatically not the province or duty of courts to say whether a policy is compassionate," Sessions said Thursday, speaking at an event at the Heritage Foundation. "That is for the people and our elected representatives to decide. The court's role is to say what the law is."
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who serves in the Eastern District of New York, told a Justice Department attorney not to come to court "to espouse a position that is heartless" during a September hearing in a legal battle over the Trump administration's decision to end DACA, a program that protects from deportation people who are in the country illegally and were brought here as children.
The comments Sessions made during the Heritage Foundation's Legal Strategy Forum on Thursday were part of a larger conservative complaint that judges too often step into roles meant for the legislative or executive branch, but come with the added context of high-profile feuds between members of the Trump administration and judges who have ruled against its policies.
Sessions on Thursday specifically called out district court judges who issue nationwide injunctions in cases involving federal action, as has happened multiple times with President Donald Trump's executive orders blocking immigration from various countries.
"We have nearly 600 federal district judges in the United States - each with the ability to issue one of these overreaching nationwide order," Sessions said. "That makes the need for judges to stick to the law even more important. A single judge's decision to enjoin the entire federal government from acting is an extreme step, and all too often, district courts are doing it without following the law. Exercising this awesome power because of a political disagreement is all the more unacceptable. The Constitution gives judges no right to veto a president's actions because they disagree with him on policy grounds."
Sessions said injunctions like these make judges "super-legislators for the entire United States" and violate the separation of powers doctrine.
In April, Sessions criticized federal judge in Hawaii for blocking a version of Trump's executive order banning people from six Muslim majority countries from entering the United States, wondering how "a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific" could block the order.
During the presidential campaign Trump also feuded with a federal judge who was presiding over a lawsuit brought against Trump University, saying in June 2016 U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel might be biased against him because his is "of Mexican heritage."
The Senate approved Trump's nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma on Thursday and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has taken steps to clear four federal appeals court nominees in the next week.
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