Like many Americans, I was surprised to learn that the fiftieth American state is just an island in the Pacific with a seriously uppity judge. Earlier this week, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III went on the Mark Levin show, a conservative talk radio program, and expressed bewilderment that a federal judge in Hawaii can interfere with the President’s constitutional prerogatives. Many on social media have excoriated Sessions for insulting Hawaii, and delighted in explaining the functions of the third branch of government to him. I certainly also feel moved to remind him that Hawaii was the only American state to suffer attack by a foreign adversary in the 20th century; if it was American enough for Tojo, it should be American enough for him. His home state of Alabama, in contrast, hasn’t seen action since it picked up its toys and went home because it couldn’t put slaves in Oregon.
Jeff Sessions didn’t attack a Hawaiian judge because he doesn’t understand the Constitution or historical significance of the state. As a former US attorney and Senator, he doesn’t need reminders about the power of the judiciary, and he remembers Pearl Harbor just fine. In fact, this fresh attack against poor Hawaii is part of an insidious effort to undermine the credibility of judges and lawmakers in Democrat-dominated states and cities. This strategy started during Trump’s campaign and shows no sign of stopping. Sessions’s statements are just the latest salvo in what appears to be a full on assault by the Trump Administration and its Justice Department not just on the judiciary as an institution, but on judges, residents, and policymakers in blue states.
Somehow, only blue state judges are “fake” and biased
Trump’s attacks on judges began during his campaign, when he accused Indiana-born California Federal District Judge Gonzalo Curiel of bias against him due to Curiel’s Mexican heritage and Trump’s blatant anti-Mexican rhetoric. Trump attacked Washington Federal District Judge James Robart as a “so-called judge” when he stayed Trump’s first travel ban, inviting criticism even from Trump’s own Supreme Court nominee. Now Sessions has attacked Hawaii Federal District Judge Derrick Watson for staying his second travel ban. All of these judges hail from reliably blue states. Notably, the judge in purple (formerly red) Virginia did not receive the same criticism. Sessions and Trump have not criticized red state judges who ruled against their policy preferences. Yesterday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the most conservative in the country, ordered Texas to pay $600,000 to the couples who fought their marriage ban. Likewise a Federal District Judge in Texas threw out Texas’s congressional redistricting map under the Voting Rights Act, which Sessions does not support. Trump and Sessions are not only attacking the judiciary – they are attacking the legal and political perspectives and rights of states held by the political opposition.
Sessions’s announced policies would endanger many residents of blue states and cities
The Trump Administration, particularly Jeff Sessions, has not stopped at attacking Blue State judges. He is reviewing consent decrees with police departments in Baltimore and Chicago – which are widely supported by the communities – saying that it is not the Justice Department’s job to intervene in this way, and it would rather enact policies to “support” the police. Fourteen cities across the country are under Obama-era consent decrees and are designed to reverse abuses in overwhelmingly Democratic and minority-dominated communities where the police have been particularly abusive. The consent decrees don’t exist in every city; they are designed to intervene to protect the civil rights and bodily safety of citizens who are put at risk by state government. His announced policy of reversing them can only be described as punitive to the most vulnerable urban citizens, who also happen to be the most reliable Democratic constituency.
Sessions has threatened economic attacks on blue states
Sessions has threatened to revoke federal funding for sanctuary cities, which decline to allow the federal government to deputize local law enforcement to carry out federal mandates. These cities are almost universally run by Democrats and mostly found in Democrat-run states. These cities have the legal right to refrain from participating in Sessions’s immigration roundups. It is a part of the separation of powers. The federal judge hearing a challenge to this policy has already expressed skepticism. So in this case, a former Southern “state’s rights” Senator is cracking down on state prerogatives to economically punish the states and cities run by the political opposition. Sessions’s economic punishment doesn’t end there. The Trump Administration’s extremism on immigration and deportation has led them to attack H1-B visas, which Silicon Valley and many New York companies rely on to import the educationally qualified workers from India and East Asia they cannot find in the US. These visas are not a threat to US workers; there are not enough Americans to meet employers’ needs. There is no valid reason for Trump’s attack. Sessions has also attacked marijuana legalization – a Democratic initiative primarily found in blue states. Major marijuana industries have sprung up in California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado, and they are likely to spread. By attacking legalized marijuana, Sessions is really attacking the economies of liberal states who have legalized it.
Attacking the safety of residents, rights of states, and state economies constitutes a new level of partisan warfare
These policies are not like the North Carolina bathroom law. The Obama Administration may have been criticized for interfering with states’ rights in that case, but it did not attack the North Carolina economy or safety of its citizens (even the advocates of that law could never produce evidence its citizens were being harmed). Trump and Sessions have produced and promised policies that will actively harm minority communities harassed by problematic police departments, states who elect to be sanctuaries, and businesses who rely on immigrant workers or engage in the legal sale of marijuana. They have also regularly attacked judges in those states responsible for policing executive overreach. These policies are not a normal result of a change in political parties. They reflect a polarization so extreme that the representatives of red America are waging war on the residents and businesses in Blue America. We can hope that, as it becomes clear to Trump voters that he is not providing the jobs he promised, they will begin to realize that by attacking the coasts, which are the engines of the American economy, they are also hurting themselves.