U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told an audience of hundreds of judges and attorneys on Friday that "erroneous rulings" by federal judges have been costly to taxpayers, and he criticized judges who've thwarted some of President Donald Trump's immigration policies.
Sessions, speaking during a judicial conference in Des Moines, also lambasted what he said was an increasing number of federal appeals courts that have issued nationwide injunctions on federal policy. He cited a case involving Chicago, which filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's sanctuary cities policy, and decisions by judges that repeatedly halted Trump's travel ban that targeted mostly Muslim countries.
"I got to tell you, it's not the duty of the courts to manage the executive branch or to pass judgment on every policy the executive branch was elected to carry out," Sessions told the roughly 700 people attending the Eighth Judicial District Conference.
"Judges aren't sent from Olympus. They're not always correct," he added.
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Trump has also panned judges who've blocked his immigration policies, including those who ruled against his administration's effort to end the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, or DACA. The program, enacted during President Barack Obama's administration, has authorized around 700,000 people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to obtain work permits and driver's licenses.
A federal judge halted a deportation process earlier this month and threatened to hold Sessions in contempt if the mother and daughter weren't returned to the U.S.
During his Friday speech, Sessions was complimentary of Trump's choices for federal judges — but he didn't address criticisms levied against him by Trump this week. Trump has openly criticized Sessions for recusing himself from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign. This week, Trump tweeted "if we had a real Attorney General" the investigation would never have been started.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch — appointed to the nation's highest court by Trump last year — also addressed the conference, which was open to those in the legal profession from seven Midwest states. He discussed among other things the importance of the rule of law and separation of powers.
"I think that the right to have an independent judge tell you what the law is, no matter who you are, is one of the great liberties and genius of the constitutional design," Gorsuch said. "It's something that's very real today for the immigrant, the criminal defendant, the unpopular, the minority."
Guy Cook, a trial lawyer from Des Moines, said he thought Sessions was engaging and covered a wide range of topics. But he said he found it remarkable that the attorney general chose a conference of federal judges and lawyers to make remarks critical of federal judge rulings challenging the Trump administration.
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"He did seem to go out of his way to emphasize the three equal branches of government, and from that made the argument that the judicial branch should not overstep its bounds," he said.
Outside the convention center hosting the event, about 100 people staged a "No Hate In Our State" protest targeting Sessions for his hardline positions on immigration, including support of the Trump administration's separation of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Community organizer Matthew Covington said Sessions has not been kind to any marginalized group and has actively undermined voting rights.
"We're just a variety of groups and individuals who agree that his message of hate shouldn't be allowed in this state," Covington said.