AG Sessions backtracks after criticizing judge on 'island in the Pacific'

(Image: AP)
(Image: AP)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is getting heat after telling a radio host that he's "amazed" a federal judge in Hawaii was able to block the president's revised travel ban.

"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," Sessions said, in a radio interview. "The president issued a good order. ... We need extreme vetting."

Sessions made the comments in an interview with radio host Mark Levin, and they generated rebuke Thursday from several members of Hawaii's Congressional delegation.

"Hey Jeff Sessions, this #IslandinthePacific has been the 50th state for going on 58 years. And we won't succumb to your dog whistle politics," U.S. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said on Twitter.

In a statement, Hirono added that she's "frankly dumbfounded" at Sessions' comments.

"The suggestion that being from Hawaii somehow disqualifies Judge Watson from performing his Constitutional duty is dangerous, ignorant, and prejudiced," Hirono said. "But we shouldn't be surprised. This is just the latest in the Trump Administration's attacks against the very tenets of our Constitution and democracy."

Also on Twitter. U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, told Sessions: "You voted for that judge. And that island is called Oahu. It's my home. Have some respect."

State Attorney General Doug Chin also reacted to Sessions' statements.

"President Trump previously called a federal judge in California a so-called judge. Now U.S. Attorney General Sessions appears to dismiss a federal judge in Hawaii as just a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific," Chin said, in a news release. "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."

Following the backlash, the U.S. Justice Department sought to clarify Sessions' statement, saying that, "Hawaii is, in fact, an island in the Pacific -- a beautiful one where the Attorney General's granddaughter was born. The point, however, is that there is a problem when a flawed opinion by a single judge can block the president's lawful exercise of authority to keep the entire country safe."

Last month, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson granted Hawaii's request to block the president's revised travel ban, preventing the federal government from suspending new visas for people from six Muslim-majority countries and freezing the nation's refugee program.

Watson, who was nominated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama, subsequently extended the order.

In the radio interview, Sessions said he's confident that the travel ban will prevail in the Supreme Court.

He also said it's important that judges "follow the law, not make law."

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