IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Why a federal judge threatened to hold AG Jeff Sessions in contempt

It's not every day that a judge raises the prospect of holding the attorney general in contempt, which made for a dramatic afternoon in a courtroom yesterday.
Image: AG Jeff Sessions Delivers Remarks On Immigration And Law Enforcement In PA
SCRANTON, PA - JUNE 15: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivers remarks on immigration and law enforcement actions on at Lackawanna College June 15,...

It's not every day that a federal judge raises the prospect of holding the attorney general in contempt, which, as you hopefully saw Rachel discuss on the show last night, made for some dramatic developments in a federal courtroom in D.C. yesterday.

In a federal courtroom in Washington on Thursday, a judge heard about something the Trump administration had just done that clearly angered him. The government, he learned, had deported an immigrant mother and daughter who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit the judge was hearing over asylum restrictions.So the judge did something highly unusual: He demanded the administration turn around the plane carrying the plaintiffs to Central America and bring them back to the United States. And he ordered the government to stop removing plaintiffs in the case from the country who are seeking protection from gang and domestic violence.

At issue was a young mother from El Salvador and her daughter, represented by the ACLU and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, who were fleeing domestic and gang violence, and who challenged the Trump administration's restrictions on asylum-seekers. The judge in this case, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, had been assured that the plaintiffs would not be deported ahead of the emergency court proceedings.

And when the young mother and her daughter were deported anyway, the judge was not at all pleased.

Indeed, Rachel read from the transcript of the court proceedings, which included Sullivan ordering the Justice Department attorneys to literally turn the plane en route to El Salvador around.

"I am not asking," the judge said. "I am ordering the government to do it. Someone in the government made a decision to remove those plaintiffs and I am not happy at all about that. If they aren't brought back forthwith, I'm going to issue orders to show cause why people should not be held in contempt of court and I'm going to start with the attorney general."

He added, "Somebody in pursuit of justice who has alleged a credible fear in her mind and is seeking justice in a United States is court is spirited away while her attorneys are arguing for justice for her? It's outrageous."

As it turns out, the plane was not able to turn around before landing. That said, NBC News reported that the mother and daughter did not disembark, and were, in fact, being flown back to the United States.

Today, Sullivan issued a related order, directing the government to file a report explaining why the court was told the plaintiffs would not be deported, only to have the opposite happen. That report is due Monday afternoon.