President Trump has made multiple aggressive critiques of the judiciary in the less than three weeks he's been in office -- and not often in diplomatic terms. Angered by a nationwide temporary restraining order against his executive order on immigration, for example, the president decried a federal judge in Seattle as a "so-called judge" and warned that "If something happens blame him and the court system."
Then, while speaking to law enforcement officers yesterday, the president took aim at the Ninth Circuit panel hearing an appeal from that order, wondering how a court could not grasp concepts that even "a bad high school student would understand."
If such attacks have left the legal community exasperated, they've also started taking a toll on Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Tenth Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch, who reportedly called the attacks "demoralizing" and "disheartening," the New York Times reported yesterday.
Trump's Court-Inspired Twitter Storm
Trump's criticism of individual judges isn't something new. During the election campaign, for example, Trump said a federal judge in California "should be ashamed of himself" for ruling against him in a lawsuit over Trump University. He went on to contend that the judge could not be an impartial arbiter, since he was of Mexican decent. "He's a Mexican. We're building a wall between here and Mexico," Trump explained.
But when such comments are made by the president, they carry much more weight. And sitting in the oval office doesn't seem to have tempered Trump's desire to lash out over unfavorable rulings, often in a personal manner.
On Friday, for example, Judge James L. Robart of the Western District of Washington, enjoined enforcement of Trump's executive order following a suit brought by Washington State. Trump's EO temporarily bans travel from seven majority-Muslim countries, as well as the domestic resettlement of refugees.
Over the following weekend, the president unleashed a series of tweets aimed at the judge and the court system generally.
The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 4, 2017
What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban and anyone, even with bad intentions, can come into U.S.?-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 4, 2017
Because the ban was lifted by a judge, many very bad and dangerous people may be pouring into our country. A terrible decision-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 4, 2017
Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 5, 2017
And that's just a sampling.
Just Do What You Should Be Doing
Then, after the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments over the TRO on Tuesday, Trump's attention turned again to the courts. "I don't ever want to call a court biased, so I won't call it biased," he said on Wednesday. "But courts seem to be so political, and it would be so great for our justice system if they would be able to read a statement and do what's right."
You could be a lawyer, or you don't have to be a lawyer. If you were a good student in high school or a bad student in high school, you can understand this, and it's really incredible to me that we have a court case that's going on so long.
I was a good student. I understand things. I comprehend very well, OK? Better than, I think, almost anybody. And I want to tell you, I listened to a bunch of stuff last night on television that was disgraceful. It was disgraceful because what I just read to you is what we have. And it just can't be written any plainer or better and for us to be going through this.
"If these judges wanted to, in my opinion, help the court in terms of respect for the court," the president said, "they'd do what they should be doing. It's so sad."
Not Making a SCOTUS Campaign Any Easier
It's highly unlikely that any of the judges facing the president's wrath will be swayed by his words. And this is not the first time presidents have clashed with the courts. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, tired of his New Deal laws being struck down, threatened to pack the Supreme Court with political allies.
When the Supreme Court decided Worcester v. Georgia, limiting state control over Native American land, Andrew Jackson reportedly declared "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!" Jackson then went on to cause the Trail of Tears.
But Trump's criticism of the judiciary probably isn't doing Gorsuch any good. As he meets with Senators and attempts to curry favor, he must deal with the concerns the president's comments have raised, and questions about whether he'll be able to stand up to the executive as a member of the Supreme Court. Gorsuch's comments about Trump's feud with judges, for example, were made when courting Senator Richard Blumenthal.
Trump, for his part, has said that reports about Gorsuch's demoralized feelings were inaccurate. He made the claim on Twitter, of course:
Sen.Richard Blumenthal, who never fought in Vietnam when he said for years he had (major lie),now misrepresents what Judge Gorsuch told him?-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2017
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