In March, a federal judge in Hawaii blocked President Trump's revised travel ban, ruling that it demonstrated religious animus. The Trump administration didn't like this one bit, of course, and during an interview on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he's "amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific" has the authority to override the president. In other words, a Hawaiian judge issued a ruling that Trump doesn't like, and so Sessions is pretending that Hawaii isn't even a state and shouldn't have any say in these matters.
The judge in question is Derrick Watson of the U.S. District Court, who issued a temporary restraining order (and later a preliminary injunction) against the latest version of Trump's travel ban. Watson determined that the policy likely violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, as it would disproportionately affect Muslims. Sessions shared his opinion about the decision with radio host Mark Levin during an Tuesday interview that was posted to the public on Wednesday. Said Sessions:
Of course, Hawaii is more than just "an island in the Pacific." It's several islands, first of all, but more importantly, it's every bit as much of a U.S. state as, say, Sessions' home state of Alabama. Likewise, Watson is a duly-appointed federal judge who, despite what Sessions and Trump might wish, has the authority to issue rulings that the federal government doesn't like. In fact, Sessions himself voted to confirm Watson's appointment in 2013.
Hawaii was built on the strength of diversity & immigrant experiences- including my own. Jeff Sessions’ comments are ignorant & dangerous— Senator Mazie Hirono (@maziehirono) April 20, 2017
Also, Watson isn't the only judge to side against the administration on the travel ban. Several courts in the mainland United States have come to the same conclusion: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California, the U.S. District Court in Virginia and the U.S. District Court in Washington had all issued rulings against Trump's travel ban prior to Watson. So, even if Sessions was correct that Hawaiian judges maybe shouldn't be allowed to weigh in on cases against the federal government, that point would be irrelevant.
Still, the U.S. Department of Justice backed up Sessions' remark on Thursday. "Hawaii is, in fact, an island in the Pacific — a beautiful one where the Attorney General's granddaughter was born," Ian D. Prior, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, 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." That may be what Sessions meant to articulate, but it doesn't make the scenario any better considering the controversy surrounding the travel ban in the first place.