The White House has condemned a decision by a federal judge to put on hold a new Trump administration rule that denies asylum to people who pass through countries where they could apply for asylum on their way to the United States.
“The tyranny of a dysfunctional system that permits plaintiffs to forum shop in order to find a single district judge who will purport to dictate immigration policy to the entire Nation … must come to an end,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a July 25 statement.
U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco blocked the rule on July 24, at the request of activist groups that filed a suit against the policy. Just hours earlier, another federal judge in Washington denied a similar request from a different group of plaintiffs.
The administration has complained for some time about what it calls “activist judges,” whom it accuses of blocking its policies on ideological grounds.
“Too many judges believe it is their right, their duty, to act upon their sympathies and policy preferences,” then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in an Oct. 15 speech, calling judicial activism “a threat to our representative government and the liberty it secures.”
Among the specific issues Sessions pointed out were the nationwide injunctions, in which a judge presiding over a local case blocks the executive action in dispute across the nation while the case proceeds through the courts.
“In the first 175 years of this republic, not a single judge issued one of these orders,” Sessions said. “But, they have been growing in frequency and, since President Trump took office less than two years ago, 27 district courts have issued such an order.”
Attorney General William Barr voiced a similar concern on May 21, saying “the legal community and the broader public should be more concerned, particularly about this trend of nationwide injunctions.”
Earlier in May, Vice President Mike Pence said the administration will “seek opportunities” to have the Supreme Court review whether district judges have the legal power to issue such injunctions in the first place.
“It’s imperative that we restore the historic tradition that district judges do not set policy for the whole nation,” Pence said.
In 2018, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in an opinion that nationwide injunctions “are beginning to take a toll on the federal court system.”
“I am skeptical that district courts have the authority to enter universal injunctions … If their popularity continues, this Court must address their legality,” he said.
Tigar ruled in favor of advocacy groups represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Center for Constitutional Rights.
The policy would have limited exceptions that would allow for asylum: if someone has been trafficked; if an asylum-seeker sought protection in a country but was denied; or if the country the migrant passed through didn’t sign one of the major international treaties that govern how refugees are managed, which most Western countries have signed.
The decision comes as tens of thousands of people wait in Mexico on official and unofficial lists formed after U.S. agents started turning away many asylum-seekers, citing a lack of space and delays in immigration courts. They also include people sent to wait in Mexico while their cases wind through the U.S. immigration process, another Trump policy that has so far survived a legal challenge.
Tigar’s ruling is the latest example of courts blocking Trump’s immigration policies. A court stopped the administration from detaining asylum-seekers without giving them a chance to be released on bond.
A judge in Oakland, California, prevented the Trump administration from tapping $2.5 billion in Pentagon money to build border barriers. The administration has appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court and has asked for a ruling by July 26.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.