Jeff Sessions, Defaming Hawaii

Terry H. Schwadron

By now, Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions’ bad-mouthing of U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson has been well-hashed and slapped around. Basically, Sessions came out with an idiotic statement in support of Presidential travel bans.

Sessions told a right-leaning radio show that he is confident that the President will prevail in the administration’s appeal of Watson’s ruling stalling the idea of a travel ban against six Muslim-dominant countries (but not Saudi Arabia!) and all refugees.

It was the way Sessions said it: “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power.” Later, he clarified by saying he didn’t mean to single out the island location, but that a sole judge of the 600-plus district courts in the country could stop the ban, when he, Sessions, finds it Constitutional.

The immediate fuss was over Sessions’ wording that seemed to overlook the idea that Hawaii has been a state for 58 years, just like Alabama or Indiana; that the actual island in this case is Oahu, site of the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941; and that it is the right of a district court to make a ruling that applies nationwide.

But Sessions has a way of consistently getting under our skin. Indeed, as I have noted previously, I have yet to hear a public opinion from the attorney general that seems reasonable.

This set of criticisms crossed several red lines for me, as Mr. Trump would say.

  • Sessions’ remarks reflect a tinge of racism to it, knowing that Judge Watson — for whom then Senator Sessions voted in confirmation — is of Asian descent. Sessions has a long history of racist remarks and actions, and I can’t help associated his most recent campaigns with at least touching on race.
  • Sessions wanted to push back on criticism of the travel ban, or whatever he prefers to call the proposed temporary halt to immigration rules. It wasn’t a single justice; indeed, in its first rounds several courts found problems in the legal construction and justification for the ban. While there were some superficial changes with the second attempt, the judge in Hawaii ruled that it essentially was part and parcel of the same executive ruling.
  • The comments cast the justice system as a manifestation of his sole opinion, and debases the role that courts play in the review of executive actions and legislation. It is not enough for Sessions to believe that some acts are Constitutional; they must be defensible in court. Our contentious society guarantees that Trump actions will be challenged. Sessions’ job is not to defend the president, it is to represent the rest of us as well.

Mostly, I can skip over the attorney general’s poor speech-making. I’m more worried about his thinking, his point of view.

Sessions is on a roll, trying to make his views on immigration the way of the land, his ideas about whether a court should rule on Baltimore (and other) police department practices, his opinions about legal marijuana more important than those of citizens of several states (and 61 percent in national polls), his personal views the representation of what law enforcement and justice are supposed to mean. But during his confirmation, it was verboten to suggest that he had a personal credo or that it sprang from a past that included views distinctly racist or pro-law enforcement.

Indeed, through the Obama years, Sessions was very much opposed to supporting enforcement of regulations as outlined by the then-President.

As constituted, the travel ban was supposed to last 90 days or 120 days, depending on which clause was being cited. That was ostensibly to give the administration time and space to examine the immigration patterns from those countries, to count the number of criminals who tried to come in during that period, and to provide justification for whatever might come next.

Well, it’s been 90 days, and I’m waiting to hear what the fuss was. To my understanding there have been exactly zero refugees, immigrants, visa-holding lawbreakers who have committed terrorist acts in this country from those six countries. So, I would think the study of patterns would be pretty easy to do. Then again, I’m not in Washington or trying to press my world view on the rest of you.

Rather, I am someone who seeks to work with immigrants, teach them English, help them maybe figure out how to prepare themselves for a job, or at least to network with one another. And I am someone who follows the news, where I see our willingness to drop missiles into Syria over chemical weapons, but an unwillingness to deal with the refugee consequences of a crazed war in Syria.

I am someone who will protest injustice as I see it, but who will accept the idea that courts are in place for a reason. And I am someone who does not believe that being Muslim makes one more of a terrorist than not being Muslim.

My family even once lived in Hawaii, and I know it is an island — with a national highway through Oahu — that has a great-than-average respect for racial difference. And I know Hawaii as a place that once welcomed my mother as a war refugee after another war not of our making.

My hope is that rather than only learning to be more careful about his language next time, that the attorney general might look at the word Justice in his departmental title, and give some thought about how to make life a bit respectful for his fellow citizens.





Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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Terry Schwadron

Terry Schwadron

Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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