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Attorney General Bob Ferguson to Gonzaga Law Students: Ask the Right Questions

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. (GU photo)

SPOKANE, Wash. – Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson told Gonzaga University School of Law students today that a key reason his office is 4-0 in cases it has brought against the Trump administration is an unwavering focus on the most relevant questions.

“A courtroom is really a great equalizer. It’s not the loudest voice that prevails in the courtroom. You can’t tweet your way out of a problem in the courtroom. Federal judges are not interested. All that matters are the facts of the case and your legal argument,” Ferguson said in a packed afternoon forum. “That’s pretty much it – how effective you are at communicating your case to a federal judge. I was not surprised that Donald Trump’s first defeat was in the courtroom for exactly that reason.”

Ferguson and the state of Washington were at the center of the national debate on immigration when he and his staff sued to halt enforcement of President Trump’s first executive order on immigration and refugees shortly after it was issued in January. As a result, U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle suspended the ban and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate it.

Now Washington, New York and Massachusetts are the lead states (among 15 states and the District of Columbia) in a case challenging President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, claiming violations of due process and equal protection guarantees, among other claims.

Attorneys with the Washington Attorney General’s Wing Luke Civil Rights Unit were in federal court in New York this week for the first hearing on the case.

Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration would rescind DACA and wind the program down over the next six months, stating it is illegal.

“There is a problem with that statement. No court in our country has actually said that DACA is illegal,” Ferguson said, pointing out that the Department of Justice had previously defended DACA and said it is constitutional. “This is a rather abrupt departure from where they have been in the past.”

Established by President Obama in 2012, DACA has granted deportation relief and provided renewable two-year work permits to qualified immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.

An estimated 800,000 young immigrants – referred to as “dreamers” – brought to this country since 2012, including nearly 18,000 in the state of Washington, have been granted DACA after satisfying requirements to complete applications, pass a background check, and apply for a work permit.

“Allowing nearly 18,000 dreamers to live and work in Washington makes our communities stronger and better places to live,” Ferguson noted earlier this week. “I will do everything in my power to ensure that they can continue to feel secure in what is, for many of them, the only home they have ever known.”

Ferguson said he decided to challenge the Trump administration on DACA after consulting with his staff and answering the same three questions he always asks before deciding to file a lawsuit.

“One is, Are Washingtonians being harmed? Number two: Do we have good legal arguments? And number three: Do I, as attorney general, have standing to bring the lawsuit? If the answers to those questions are yes, yes and yes, then I’m interested.”

Leaders and organizations run afoul when they fail to ask the right questions, he said.

“I think where elected officials or anyone who is running any organization, where they sometimes get into trouble – I see it all the time for what it’s worth – is in making important decisions they ask questions that are not relevant to the decisions they must make,” Ferguson said.

His office, he said, has been successful by remaining “intensely focused” on only those three most relevant questions.

“And we have an excellent legal team that can bring these cases,” he said.

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