WASHINGTON — SpaceX has responded to a Justice Department lawsuit about the company’s hiring practices with a suit of its own, arguing that the government’s case is unconstitutional.

SpaceX filed suit Sept. 15 against several Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Merrick Garland, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The suit seeks dismissal of a case filed by the Justice Department Aug. 24 alleging that the company’s hiring practices discriminated against asylees and refugees. That case was filed with the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) in the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which handles cases related to immigration law.

SpaceX’s lawsuit is based less on the specific details of the Justice Department’s case and more on its constitutionality. The federal government’s case is being considered by an appointed administrative law judge who is “unconstitutionally insulated from Presidential authority,” the company argues, adding that the case should be taken up in a federal court rather than an administrative one without the right to a jury trial.

“SpaceX denies the government’s allegations and has numerous factual and legal defenses. But whether or not SpaceX violated any hiring regulations, the OCAHO proceedings are unconstitutional under binding law,” the company says in its suit.

The company filed suit in the Southern District of Texas, rather than in California where the company is headquartered. The company cited its Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, where it received approximately 72,000 applications for 1,451 positions between September 2018 and May 2022, the period cited in the government’s suit. The company said 170 of those applicants self-identified as asylees or refugees.

One industry source said on background that SpaceX may have chosen Texas as the venue for the case to ensure any appeals are heard through the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has shown a greater tendency recently to challenge government policies.

While SpaceX’s suit is based on legal issues, the company denied discriminating against asylees and refugees in the hiring process. It emphasized its need to strictly adhere to export control regulations. “Every SpaceX employee has access to technology and data controlled by these statutory and regulatory regimes,” the company stated, adding that, in the company’s experience, “many applicants who self-identify as asylees or refugees are not in fact asylees or refugees.”

“Nevertheless, throughout the recruitment and hiring process and across its facilities nationwide, SpaceX follows strict policies and procedures to both ensure compliance with all export control laws and regulations and also prevent any unlawful discrimination, including discrimination against refugees and asylees,” the company said in the suit.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...