The individual statute administered by an agency dictates which court has initial jurisdiction to hear a case challenging an agency action. Statutes allow for immediate appeal to either the district courts or circuit courts of appeal. This distinction is critical.
A decision of a circuit court has an immediate and undeniable effect on the law and is absolutely binding on the federal government in that circuit and will likely influence other circuits. Simply put, the executive branch cannot ignore a decision of a circuit court.
In contrast to the circuit court decisions, the decision of an individual district court judge is not normally binding on future cases. When the executive loses a case at the district court it normally does not appeal the decision. It will abide by the court’s order…in regards to the individual plaintiff.
This is not to say it abides by that decision in future cases. Rather executive agencies can and normally do ignore the decisions of individual district court judges in any future case. The executive branch treats adverse district court decisions with less concern than bear gives a mosquito. (ironically, the executive branch trumpets any victory in a district court as a validation of policy, and holds them out as binding on the entire nation).
The executive agencies typically only appeal those district court decisions that they feel are clearly erroneous. By so doing the agency stacks the deck, and games the system to cherry pick cases that support its position. Contrary decisions are smothered because they are never allowed the chance to breath the air in a court of appeals.
Another distinction bears mention. Statutes that have a major impact on industry, and have well funded litigants tend to have immediate appeals of agency action to the circuit courts (e.g. many environmental, communications, and financial statutes). While statutes that have impacts on individual claims and rights tend to be appealable in the district courts (e.g. immigration regulations, and determinations on visas and admissibility).
In reality, these litigants do not have sufficient resources to pursue a challenge in court. When they do, the government tends to face underfunded litigants in district court who cannot afford to appeal an adverse decision.
So the government agency truly holds all the cards when defending unlawful agency policy or actions impacting these individuals. Most violations go unchallenged because individuals cannot afford a legal battle. Even when an individual vindicates their legal rights, the agency ignores such adverse decisions in future district court challenges, forcing other individuals to challenge the same violations over and over again.
National injunctions are the only way to force the executive branch to pay attention to an adverse decision of a district court.
The national applicability of the order strips away the executive’s prerogative to hide from adverse decisions and limit them to their facts.
When the SG says the nationwide injunctions are a problem, what he really means is that he doesn't want to be forced to respond to judicial decisions that are not supportive of the government. He wants to be able to ignore well-reasoned district court decisions invalidating executive action on individual rights, and prefers to pick battles that are sure winners.
Given the tenor of the administration, I suppose we should not be surprised that they would only accept a legal fight that is the equivalent of boxing a quadriplegic.
The national injunction is the only way to keep the government honest and give power back to individuals faced with the near omnipotence of the administrative state.
Moreover, from a purely legal standpoint they make sense. Federal judges have had unquestioned authority to rule on the legality of executive action ever since Marbury v. Madison. In a case alleging a continual violation of law litigants may seek a preliminary injunction (“PI”), and show they are likely to win on the merits.
If the Plaintiff challenges a rule of general applicability in Dallas Texas (in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas) and shows at the PI stage the government violated federal law, the violation should stop. The government should not be permitted to continue to violate the law in San Antonio, Texas (in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas) until a plaintiff with enough money challenges the action in that district.
Rules of judicial economy should favor nationwide injunctions.
For years, Conservatives have bemoaned the growth of the all powerful administrative state, with its faceless bureaucrats making incomprehensible rules and decisions. Likewise liberals fear the abuse of executive power and the impact it has on the most vulnerable. The nationwide injunction addresses these legitimate concerns.
Nationwide injunctions are the best check on the abuses the founders feared. Anyone opposing them is advocating for increased bureaucratic despotism and decreased accountability of unelected government bureaucrats