US federal court blocks DOJ proceedings against SpaceX News
SpaceX, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
US federal court blocks DOJ proceedings against SpaceX

A Texas federal court blocked administrative proceedings launched by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) against SpaceX over alleged discriminatory employment practices. The decision, announced on Wednesday, halts the DOJ’s proceedings, pending the resolution of a lawsuit filed by SpaceX in September.

In an August complaint, the DOJ alleged that SpaceX violated Section 1324b of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) by discriminating against refugees and aslyees in its hiring practices. The DOJ claimed that SpaceX has discriminated against asylees and refugees for several years by limiting jobs to permanent US residents and US citizens. SpaceX defended its practices by referring to its required compliance with the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). SpaceX stated that the company could not hire people without at least permanent residency. The DOJ claimed that asylees and refugees are technically US persons under ITAR, which means that SpaceX did not apply hiring restrictions properly.

Subsequently, SpaceX updated its hiring requirements by modifying the engineer position verbiage to explicitly include asylees and refugees under ITAR:

To conform to U.S. Government export regulations, applicant must be a (i) U.S. citizen or national, (ii) U.S. lawful, permanent resident (aka green card holder), (iii) Refugee under 8 U.S.C. § 1157, or (iv) Asylee under 8 U.S.C. § 1158, or be eligible to obtain the required authorizations from the U.S. Department of State.

US District Judge Rolando Olvera’s Wednesday decision turned on a procedural issue with the DOJ’s initial August complaint against SpaceX. Olvera explained that Section 1324b allows DOJ administrative judges to make final decisions without the review of the US Attorney General. Administrative judges, unlike regular judges, operate within the executive branch of the US government, as opposed to the judicial branch. However, the US Constitution requires that “inferior officers”—including DOJ administrative judges—”must be ‘directed and supervised’ by the Attorney General.” Because this conflicts with the DOJ’s assertion that the lawsuit need not be reviewed by the US Attorney General, the complaint is unconstitutional and cannot proceed.

The DOJ first started its investigation into SpaceX’s employment practices in 2021. A non-citizen filed a complaint with the Immigrant and Employee Rights (IER) section of the DOJ under the INA, claiming that he was not hired because of his citizenship status. Back in August, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk confirmed that the company will not hire anyone without US permanent residency.