President Donald Trump declares war on the judiciary

Published 11:09 am Thursday, February 9, 2017

By John Micek

No matter how the Ninth Circuit rules on President Donald Trump’s poorly conceived and even more poorly executed ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, one fact has been laid completely bare:

The current occupant of the White House has no respect, and even less understanding, of the Constitutionally mandated separation of powers between the branches of government.

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On Wednesday, Trump called opposition to his ban “disgraceful,” and said a “bad high school student would understand” that he was within his rights to impose it.

Mr. Trump must have been an atrocious student, then, because even that same bad student would understand that the judiciary has the constitutional obligation to hear challenges to federal law and to rule on those challenges.

Trump’s contempt for the judiciary has been on display since his days as a candidate. And his long history of legal entanglements while in private life has been thoroughly documented.

Last year, he attacked the credibility and questioned the impartiality of Indiana-born U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel. Curiel who is of Mexican descent, was hearing a civil case against Trump at the time.

Last weekend, Trump went after U.S. District Judge James Robart, after the George W. Bush appointee temporarily stayed the ban in advance of an intense hearing by the 9th Circuit on Tuesday.

“Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril,” Trump tweeted. “If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”

Trump dismissed Robart as a “so-called judge,” whose “ridiculous ruling,” will be overturned. At this writing, that may yet be the case.

But it might also be just a stopping-off point.

As Bloomberg News notes, it’s more than likely that the fight over Trump’s travel ban will land in the laps of a still short-handed U.S. Supreme Court sooner rather than later.

There have been some who have tried to equate Trump’s broadside against Robart to former President Barack Obama’s admittedly graceless State of the Union attack on the Supreme Court justices seated before him over the Citizens United decision.

They are pushing a false equivalency. And for the good of the record, here, from The Washington Post, is precisely what Obama said:

“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama said.

“I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people. And I urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems.”

While Obama criticized the ruling, he never directly attacked the justices, questioned the justices’ legitimacy, nor its right to make such a ruling.

As a constitutional law professor, Obama surely knew the bright-line risk such an attack would pose to our democratic institutions.

Trump, who is neither lawyer, nor politician, nor soldier, nor certainly even vaguely statesman-like, is not bound by such norms. Nor has he evinced any interest in even respecting them.

Most functioning adults would accept the temporary setback for what it is — a legitimate part of the government exercising its constitutional powers — and grouse with some degree of civility.

But for the man-child in the White House, who can only act out in the same way as a fourth-grade tyrant or a toddler denied a snack, Trump only has one mode: attack.

And while that might only be merely offensive coming from a candidate, coming from the Presi-dent of the United States it sets a dangerously destabilizing tone.

What might happen if the Supreme Court hands down a ruling that runs counter to the White House’s interests?

Will Trump and his ultra-nationalist adviser Stephen K. Bannon direct the government to ignore the court’s orders?

And will Trump’s legion of self-styled “deplorables” simply wave their red #MAGA hats in assent and fall blindly into line?

Trump’s counter-factual rantings about “bad people” flooding into the country disregards, once again, the reality that refugees seeking entry to the United States are the mostly strictly screened of all potential entrants, going through a process that can take years to complete.

Let’s be clear — no one’s saying that America, through the broad powers vested in the executive, doesn’t have the right to secure its borders and to ensure that potential overseas threats are kept at bay.

But what Trump did — and the way he went about it — makes clear that the administration’s travel ban was a poor piece of policy from start to finish.

Keeping a campaign promise is one thing — keeping it at the expense of our values and laws is another matter entirely.

John Micek is a syndicated columnist.