Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday defended his reference t0 a federal judge in Hawaii as “a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific” after the judge blocked a revised travel ban from President Donald Trump in March.
The new ban suspended America’s refugee program and restricting travel from six Muslim-majority countries, among other things. Days after he blocked the order, on March 19, Judge Derrick Watson also rejected the federal government’s request that he narrow the scope of his restraining order. On March 29, he turned it into a preliminary injunction.
“Well I think that was a perfectly correct statement,” Sessions told MSNBC’s Ali Velshi.
“We have some 700 federal judges. One of them has now stopped the President of the United States, who’s briefed daily from the Department of Defense, the CIA, the Department of Justice, Homeland Security, on the dangers and threats we face. He’s issued a perfectly reasonable executive order.”
“I wasn’t diminishing the judge or the island of Hawaii, that beautiful place, give me a break,” Sessions said later in response to Velshi, who asked about criticism of Sessions’ remark. “I was just making the point that’s very real: one judge out of 700 has stopped the President of the United States from doing what he believes is necessary to protect our safety and security.”
Both of Hawaii’s senators quickly criticized Sessions’ remark Thursday. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) called it “dog whistle politics.” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) told Sessions to “have some respect.”
The state’s attorney general, Doug Chin, who represents Hawaii in its lawsuit against the federal government over the executive order, said in a statement, “Our Constitution created a separation of powers in the United States for a reason.”
“Our federal courts, established under article III of the Constitution, are co-equal partners with Congress and the President. It is disappointing AG Sessions does not acknowledge that,” he added.