President Donald Trump’s appointment of Ken Cuccinelli as acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, a federal judge ruled Sunday. The decision suspends two policies Cuccinelli implemented while leading the agency, Politico reports. Cuccinelli, an immigration hard-liner who was previously Virginia attorney general, became acting head of USCIS in June, assuming the newly created role of “principal deputy director.” In November, Cuccinelli also became the “senior official performing the duties of the deputy secretary” at USCIS’ parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss in Washington, D.C., said Cuccinelli was never eligible to become acting USCIS chief. Because Cuccinelli’s USCIS position was designated initially as “first assistant” to the USCIS director, the Trump administration reasoned that Cuccinelli could become acting chief under a provision of the 1998 vacancies law. Moss wrote that Cuccinelli’s appointment did not comply with the law because “he never did and never will serve in a subordinate role — that is, as an ‘assistant’ — to any other USCIS official.” Rather, Cuccinelli was “assigned the role of principal on day-one,” Moss wrote. The order strikes down directives from Cuccinelli that sped up asylum-seekers’ initial screenings and limited extensions of those hearings, on the grounds that Cuccinelli lacked authority to issue them. The lawsuit was brought by the pro-immigration advocacy groups Democracy Forward and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network on behalf of an immigration legal center and seven asylum-seekers.