Judge Dan Aaron Polster, who is coming off of two weeks of sentencing criminal immigration cases in New Mexico, told the local Anti-Defamation League civil rights committee on Feb. 8 that calling into question the legitimacy of a federal judge is “a line that shouldn’t be crossed” and an official making such comments “forfeits his or her own legitimacy.”
Polster, judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, made the remarks just days after President Donald Trump criticized a federal judge on Twitter for blocking his travel ban. Polster did not use Trump’s name during the meeting.
Polster, a member of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike and Congregation Shaarey Tikvah in Beachwood, also told the intimate ADL group about his time sentencing cases in New Mexico and his upbringing as a Jew. The meeting was held at a penthouse in Bratenahl.
Polster was asked to spend two weeks in Las Cruces, N.M., which is 46 miles north of the Mexican border, to assist the district in sentencing immigration cases, most of which were cases of illegal reentry. It is considered a felony to reenter the U.S. after being legally deported.
While Polster said in Cleveland he typically sentences two cases a day, in New Mexico he was responsible for 25 per day because of the district’s caseload.
“I did more sentencing in these two weeks than the whole 2017 in Cleveland,” he said.
Polster said the experience helped him gain a new understanding of the issues undocumented immigrants face prior to coming to the U.S.
“They know they aren’t supposed to come, but have no choice,” he said, adding that most people he sentenced cited wanting to be near family and economic distress in their origin countries of Mexico or Guatemala as reasons for reentering illegally.
“I did not see a single murderer, a single rapist or a single terrorist,” he said. He added that to dispel myths about the character of those in the country illegally, citizens should recommend their representatives or senators spend a day observing immigration trials.
Polster said in most of the cases he saw, which were plea agreements, defendants received between one and four month sentences, but under the new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the sentences could become much longer if the administration decides. However, keeping them incarcerated up to one to two years would cost the U.S. “billions,” Polster said.
He said the president and Congress are responsible for securing borders in a way that is “humane and realistic,” which he said they have the capacity to do, but it remains to be seen if they have the “political will.” He also said from what he saw, immigrating illegally to the U.S. is already difficult.
“I believe far more people are getting caught than are not getting caught,” Polster said.
On the topic of the executive branch pressuring federal judges, Polster said, “I do not believe there is a single federal judge who can be intimidated by anyone.”
Just hours before Polster spoke to the ADL group, news outlets reported that Judge Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, said privately that Trump’s comments about federal judges were “demoralizing” and “disheartening.”
Gorsuch’s comments followed Trump’s Feb. 4 tweets about Judge James Robart, of the Federal District Court in Seattle, who blocked Trump’s immigration order, as well as Trump’s Feb. 8 comments about the appellate court who later maintained the freeze on the ban, which he said seems to be “so political.”
One of Trump’s tweets about Robart said, “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”
On Feb. 9, Trump rebutted on Twitter that Gorsuch’s comments were misrepresented by the senator to which he made them, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Ct.
Polster also discussed how his Jewish upbringing influences his life and work.
“That’s why it’s important to have judges of diversity – each of us sees the world through our lens …. a big part of my lens is because of my Jewish upbringing and beliefs.”