Judge Ashley Tabaddor Files Suit against Department of Justice for Violating First Amendment and Civil Rights Act of 1964

August 12, 2014, Los Angeles, CA –  The Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) was today informed of a suit filed against the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) by Judge Ashley Tabaddor, an immigration judge for the U.S. Immigration Court. In this suit, Judge Tabaddor challenges an order that indefinitely recuses her from hearing cases involving Iranian nationals, citing that the order violates her First Amendment rights of free speech and association. The suit also notes that the order is racially discriminatory under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The suit, Tabaddor v. Holder et al., charges that the DOJ based its disqualification order on racially-motivated and discriminatory criteria, specifically Judge Tabaddor’s Iranian heritage and her leadership role within the Iranian American community.
The suit arose after Judge Tabaddor attended a roundtable meeting at the White House in August 2012, which involved discussion of federal initiatives relevant to the Iranian American community. Prior to attending the meeting, Judge Tabaddor was informed by the Office of General Counsel that she could attend the roundtable meeting as long as she was not appearing in her official capacity. In addition, it was “recommended” that she “recuse” herself from cases involving Iranian nationals given her activities with the Iranian American community. There was no mention of any consequences for attending the meeting.  After the meeting, Judge Tabaddor sought clarification of the recommendation and was subsequently told that she “should disqualify [herself] from cases involving respondents from Iran to avoid any appearance problems.” Judge Tabaddor protested, noting that other immigration judges who have been active in their ethnic and religious communities have not been subject to blanket recusal recommendations like the one being imposed on her.

In her complaint, Judge Tabaddor asserts that the disqualification order challenges existing DOJ policy on free speech and associational rights of all immigration judges to participate in speaking, educational, and volunteer activities on their own time and in their personal capacities.  It also contradicts written DOJ ethics policies applicable to immigration judges that affirmatively encourage civic engagement. Equally important, the recusal order violates regulations requiring that recusal determinations be made only by the presiding Immigration Judge on an individualized case-by-case basis and not imposed by DOJ officials in an arbitrary manner. The suits seeks an injunction requiring the DOJ lift the recusal order and cease enforcement of a policy that is discriminatory and significantly limits an immigration judge’s ability to participate in a potentially wide array of civic, religious, volunteer, and other activities.   

The suit challenges the assertion that an immigration judge cannot fairly administer the law because of his or her racial or ethnic heritage, or association with a particular race, national origin or religion. PAAIA is concerned that the order sets a precedent for similar racial profiling against other individuals of Iranian descent holding high level positions within the legal, government, and other fields.  In addition, we are concerned that the order treads on the authority of Immigration Judges to independently decide cases that come before them without undue manipulation by DOJ officials, and endangers the due process rights of those who appear before the Immigration Courts.

PAAIA will continue to follow up on the status of this complaint. A copy of the complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, can be accessed here

A member of the California bar, Judge Tabaddor is an immigration judge for the U.S. Immigration Court, where she serves as a judge in one of the most active courts in the nation. In addition, Judge Tabaddor serves as an adjunct professor with UCLA Law School and has served as an adjunct professor at USC, Chapman, and George Washington Law Schools. Prior to her appointment for the judgeship in 2005, she served for three years as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Central District of California in Los Angeles.  Judge Tabaddor is an active member of the Iranian American community, having previously served on the Board of Advisors for the Iranian American Bar Association and as a mentor for the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans.

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