Cuccinelli’s Appointment to Immigration Post Is Illegal, Judge Rules

“It raises serious questions about the legality of a number of policies that Cuccinelli has enacted and may yet enact, and we and others will be taking a closer look at that in the coming days,” Mr. Shah said. He called the voiding of the asylum directives “a big blow for the Trump administration’s racist agenda.”

The administration initially considered having Mr. Cuccinelli serve as an “immigration czar” to coordinate policy across agencies. He was then picked to replace L. Francis Cissna, the former director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, who was long seen as a bureaucratic barrier by some White House advisers.

Days after Mr. Cissna’s resignation, Mr. McAleenan created a brand-new job, principal deputy director, for Mr. Cuccinelli. That same day, Mr. McAleenan rewrote the rules of succession to make that position the next in line to lead Citizenship and Immigration Services on an acting basis. Mr. Cuccinelli then began leading the agency.

“Everyone understood that the way they tried to install Cuccinelli was a stunt,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas whose work includes studying the Vacancies Act. “The top line is that the Trump administration gets called out for its own hubris.”

Under Mr. Trump, a department created after the Sept. 11 attacks to safeguard the United States has been turned into a carousel of temporary leaders lacking Senate confirmation. Mark A. Morgan served as the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement before replacing John Sanders as the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. Mr. Sanders was also working in an acting position. Matthew T. Albence replaced Mr. Morgan as the acting director of ICE.

The secretary of homeland security, Chad Wolf, is serving in an acting capacity. His predecessor, Mr. McAleenan, was also never nominated before he resigned in October.

“You need a scorecard to tell the players,” Mr. Vladeck said.

Mr. Trump, who relies on such acting appointees throughout his government, has said he sees an advantage in keeping officials in the supposedly temporary roles.