A nationwide injunction is one that applies not only to the parties in a case, but also prevents the federal government from enforcing a law, regulation, or policy against any person, anywhere in the United States.
Since the important point is not the geographical scope of the injunction, but that it applies to nonparties, nationwide injunctions are more appropriately termed universal injunctions.
Universal injunctions are an invitation to plaintiffs to cherry-pick a friendly judge. There are currently 1,000 active and senior district court judges across the country, any one of them might issue a national injunction halting a federal policy.
Universal injunctions undermine confidence in a nonpartisan judiciary. When the public sees judges in New York enjoining President Trump’s policies, and judges in Texas enjoining President Obama’s policies, the reputation of the judiciary suffers.
Universal injunctions force judges into making rushed, low-information decisions in high-stakes cases. Ordinarily, a number of federal judges across the country will have had time to weigh in on a legal issue. But universal injunctions short-circuit this process, often forcing the Supreme Court to take a case once a single district judge has enjoined a law.
Universal injunctions are inconsistent with the Constitution, which limits the judicial power to “cases” and “controversies.” This constitutes the power to decide cases for parties, not everyone.
Thus, for the first 150 years of our country, not a single federal court issued a universal injunction purporting to bind non-parties.