In the latest Trump Administration foot-in-mouth gaffe Attorney General Jeff Sessions today challenged the legitimacy of a Hawaii Federal judge because he’s “sitting on an island in the Pacific.” Sessions was commenting the ruling of Federal District Court Judge Derrick Watson’s decision restraining Trump’s second shot at a travel ban from certain Muslim nations.
Yes, this really happened. The Attorney General of the United States, someone you would at least hope is familiar with our Constitutional and judicial scheme, said:
“So this is a huge matter. 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.”
The effect of the head lawyer for the United States statement is to attack the judge’s legitimacy by challenging the legitimacy of Hawaii as state. The attack on the judge certainly dances with a potential ethical violation under Rule 8.2a of the ABA’s Model Rules for lawyer ethics:
“A lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge, adjudicatory officer or public legal officer, or of a candidate for election or appointment to judicial or legal office.” — Rule 8.2a of ABA Model Rules.
The essence of the statement made by Sessions is to challenge “the qualifications” of Judge Derrick Watson because he is merely on “an island in the Pacific.” The purpose of this rule is to discourage lawyers involved in a case from attacking the integrity of the court, and Sessions certainly did that.
The statement by Sessions echoes the racist “He’s a Mexican” attacks by candidate Trump on Judge Curiel in the later settled Trump University fraud case. Instead of “He’s a Mexican” we are treated to “He’s an islander.”
Beyond that the people of the State of Hawaii should legitimately wonder if the Attorney General of the United States will represent them. After all, they are merely people on “an island in the Pacific,” apparently hardly regarded as Americans by our Attorney General.