WASHINGTON -- U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell on Monday seemed skeptical of a lawsuit filed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the self-proclaimed "America's Toughest Sheriff" on immigration, over executive actions by the president that could protect up to 5 million people from being deported.
It was the first hearing on a case brought in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia over the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration, specifically those that provide deferred action and work authorization to undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children or are the parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.
Arpaio, who comes from Maricopa County, Arizona, sued the same day that Obama announced the new programs, saying they were unconstitutional and would hurt law enforcement by allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. and commit crimes. It was followed by another lawsuit, now backed by 24 states, claiming the executive actions violate the Constitution.
Opponents of the actions were bolstered last week when a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that Obama's actions on immigration were unconstitutional. That ruling, though, came on a criminal case where it was not clear the judge needed to address the constitutionality of Obama's immigration policies at all.
That judge's ruling was mentioned on Monday by Arpaio lawyer Larry Klayman. But Howell, an Obama appointee, seemed unconvinced by the ruling. She called it "a real puzzle" that the judge ruled on constitutionality without determining the man in the Pennsylvania lawsuit was eligible for deportation relief. Later, when Klayman asked her to weigh in on the constitutionality of Obama's actions, she asked if that meant she should be like the judge in Pennsylvania. "You want me to opine?" she said.
The central questions on Monday were whether Arpaio had standing to bring the case, and whether he faces injury because of the actions. The Justice Department asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit.
Howell questioned Klayman for nearly an hour over how the executive actions would affect Arpaio. She said she was "puzzled" about whether Arpaio was suing as an individual or in his capacity as sheriff -- Klayman said he was suing as both -- and seemed skeptical of the arguments that these specific executive actions would cause him harm.
She also indicated she was not entirely convinced the courts should weigh in on the executive actions, saying she had "some pause" about the courts intervening when Congress could respond.
Klayman, who founded the advocacy groups Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, appeared to be playing to the history books. He predicted the case would go to the Supreme Court -- Howell said she wouldn't make predictions -- and that Howell would be famous if it did.
His challenge, though, was convincing her not to dismiss the case based on standing. He said that on a personal level, Arpaio had faced threats over his immigration views, and that the new programs would worsen that problem. The judge did not seem convinced by that, saying she did not see how her ruling would change how Arpaio is viewed.
Klayman's other argument was that Obama's immigration actions caused problems for Arpaio as a sheriff. He said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement was releasing people who had been jailed by Arpaio. After being released, those undocumented immigrants are in the community "vandalizing" and "assaulting," he said, and then end up back in jail, costing resources for the sheriff's office.
Howell questioned whether the programs -- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents -- had anything to do with the problem of undocumented immigrants committing crimes after being released, and said that issue seemed to predate DACA, which started in 2012. Klayman said the programs would "exacerbate" the situation.
Most of Klayman's arguments were similar to those others have made against Obama's action. He said it was not just about immigration, but about the Constitution. He said the "precedent is terrible" and that Obama's action was "trashing our Constitution." He brought up his and Arpaio's views on immigrants unprompted -- twice to say neither of them were anti-immigrant, and once to say he had never heard the sheriff say anything negative about Latinos. Klayman said the lawsuit should not be considered as an attack on this particular president.
Howell did not issue a ruling at the hearing, but indicated one will be issued soon.