Judge Who Blocked Obama's Immigration Plan Goes On Rampage Against DOJ

Among other things, he ordered Attorney General Loretta Lynch to look out for the ethics of government lawyers.
Immigration activists rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears arguments over the legality of President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration.
Immigration activists rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears arguments over the legality of President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration.
Joshua Roberts / Reuters

The same judge who put the brakes on President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration has gone on a rampage against the Department of Justice for conduct he deemed unethical.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, a George W. Bush appointee who sits in Brownsville, Texas, issued an extraordinary order on Thursday imposing a number of sanctions on administration lawyers for "misrepresentations" he says they made while the immigration case was before him in its early stages.

Hanen acknowledged that the merits of the case as a whole now rest with the U.S. Supreme Court, which will decide the case before the end of June. And he wrote that he "neither takes joy nor finds satisfaction" with his order.

But he nonetheless proceeded to chastise the administration for what he says were a number of misrepresentations in court filings and appearances by lawyers in the course of the litigation. These "misstatements," he said, misled him and the 26 states that sued the government over its implementation of Obama's plan to defer deportations for millions of undocumented immigrants.

"Clearly, there seems to be a lack of knowledge about or adherence to the duties of professional responsibility in the halls of the Justice Department," Hanen wrote. He also said his court "would be remiss if it left such unseemly and unprofessional conduct unaddressed."

Namely, Hanen accused Justice Department lawyers of not having told him or the states that the Department of Homeland Security had already granted relief under the immigration programs to more than 100,000 undocumented immigrants while the programs, first announced in November 2014, were being challenged in court.

Doing this while the litigation was underway and without telling the court or the other side was unethical, Hanen said.

"Such conduct is certainly not worthy of any department whose name includes the word 'Justice,'" he wrote. "Suffice it to say, the citizens of all fifty states, their counsel, the affected aliens and the judiciary all deserve better."

In keeping with this sweeping language, the judge ordered government lawyers who plan to participate in court cases in any of the 26 states involved in the ongoing litigation to complete three hours of ethics training annually -- a requirement he said "should not be too cumbersome."

The sanctions reached the very office of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, whom he ordered to designate someone to ensure compliance with this edict and to submit reports to that effect yearly. He also ordered Lynch to notify him within 60 days about whether the department's Office of Professional Responsibility is doing its job properly.

Perplexingly, Hanen also ordered DOJ to submit under seal a list of all the undocumented immigrants who received deferred action from deportation -- including their personal information -- while the case continues, and left open the door to releasing it to the states after the Supreme Court rules in the underlying dispute.

Through a spokesman, the Department of Justice said it "strongly disagrees with the order" but declined to comment on whether it plans to appeal it.

This wouldn't be the first time Hanen has acted controversially in the case. His issuance of a national injunction against the programs in February 2015 was roundly criticized in legal circles for going beyond the power of what a lower court can do.

With the Supreme Court poised to rule on the validity of Hanen's initial ruling in the coming weeks, it's uncertain what, if anything, will come of this latest episode in federal court.

Hanen's move arrived on a symbolic day. Had the centerpiece of Obama's actions, known as DAPA, gone into effect as intended, it would have turned one year old today.

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