Lawyers at the Department of Justice want to kiss and make up with the federal judge who accused them of misleading him during a major case over deportation relief for millions of undocumented immigrants.
In new court filings submitted on Monday, DOJ was contrite about the whole episode ― which stemmed from an early stage in the multi-state challenge to President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration ― and urged U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen to put the matter to rest.
“We acknowledge and apologize for these mistakes, and for the valuable time the Court has expended on this matter as a result,” DOJ lawyers wrote in response to an earlier order by the judge. “But we did not intend to mislead the Court or to conceal any fact concerning implementation of the Guidance.”
That “guidance” is Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, which would allow certain undocumented parents to remain in the U.S. and apply for work permits for three years. Twenty-six states had joined a lawsuit against DAPA by early 2015, and the case ended up with Hanen, who issued a nationwide injunction blocking the program’s implementation.
In May of this year, while the Supreme Court was considering the program, Hanen imposed sweeping sanctions on DOJ for “misstatements” made during his portion of the case. The judge complained that early in the proceedings, DOJ wasn’t forthright about how many DREAMers were receiving relief under another part of the program that wasn’t being directly challenged in the lawsuit.
“Such conduct is certainly not worthy of any department whose name includes the word ‘Justice,’” Hanen wrote in his order, which imposed three hours of annual ethics training for all lawyers appearing for any of the 26 states that originally sued. But he also went a step further, ordering DOJ to turn over the personal identifying information of the immigrants who benefitted from the program during certain dates. The move drew strong criticism from immigration advocates, and Hanen later put it on hold pending further proceedings.
The Monday filing stressed that there was no “intentional misconduct” on the government’s part, but rather that lawyers made statements or submitted documents leaving the judge “with an incorrect understanding of the facts.”
Because DOJ said it “acted in good faith at all times in the litigation,” it asked Hanen to set aside the earlier order requiring ethics trainings and the names of immigrants. It added that it’s already taking “voluntary measures” to require all the lawyers in the department’s civil division to attend a one-hour training within the next 90 days by “an outside expert in legal ethics and professional responsibility.”
There’s no telling if Hanen will go along ― he’ll conduct a hearing on the matter later this month. But DOJ said in a court declaration it has “sincere hope that this training will help to assure the Court that we are making every effort to maintain the trust placed in the Department of Justice,” according to Benjamin Mizer, the head of the department’s civil division.
Once this controversy is out of the way, the next step of the litigation will be to determine whether Hanen’s initial injunction blocking Obama’s immigration plan should be made permanent. That decision, too, should be headed to the Supreme Court, hopefully by the time a ninth justice is confirmed.