A federal appeals court is wrestling with the question of whether the government should be forced to make public the names of immigration judges accused of misconduct either on or off the job.
A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit heard arguments for nearly an hour Tuesday over a Freedom of Information Act request the American Immigration Lawyers Association filed for all records related to the discipline process for immigration judges.
The Justice Department released portions of those files, but redacted the names of the judges and replaced them with codes.
Justice Department lawyer Javier Guzman argued that the judges are low-level employees, similar to FBI agents, Drug Enforcement Agency agents or so-called “line” Assistant U.S. Attorneys. A lower court judge accepted that comparison.
However, a lawyer for the immigration lawyers’ group said the immigration judges exercise more independent authority than any of those personnel and that the law delegates that authority directly to the judges.
“Immigration judges are making life or death decisions and they’re required by law to use their independent judgment,” said Julie Murray of Public Citizen Immigration Group. “In many cases, the buck stops with them.”
Immigration judges are employees of the executive branch of government who work for an agency within the Justice Department. Their decisions can be appealed within the Justice Department and then to a federal appeals court.
Murray said it was particularly important that the public be able to obtain the names of judges who have been repeatedly accused of misconduct but not disciplined.
“The public has an interest in going to the courtroom of a judge who’s been subject to 20 complaints” but not punished,” she said. “That can’t be done here.”
By JOSH GERSTEIN of POLITICO
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