Donald Trump turned to his favorite outlet for outrage over the weekend when he blasted out tweets to his 23.9 million followers lambasting the federal judge who temporarily suspended the President’s executive orders on immigration.
After only three weeks in office, he is launching an unusual attack – not just on a particular ruling, but targeting a specific judge.
“Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril,” Trump wrote. “If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!” Trump wrote.
The message was clear. If there’s a terrorist attack, it’s the judge’s fault.
The tweet raises complications for Trump’s own Justice Department lawyers, who are arguing in federal courts trying to save his executive order. It also complicates the upcoming testimony of his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, and raises safety concerns for those who believe that life tenured judges shouldn’t be subject to personal attacks from government officials.
“I have seen a direct correlation between threats and inappropriate communications to judges stemming from the negative rhetoric of public officials,” said John Muffler, former US Marshal who now works for Gavin de Becker and Associates. “It is not an ideal situation as it creates and can ferment negative behavior towards judges.”
It also risks offending some Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, who recently wrote about the importance of lower court judges. In his annual report last month, Roberts called judges “selfless, patriotic and brave,” and he said “this is no job for impulsive, timid or inattentive souls.”
“You might be asking,” Roberts wrote about life-tenured judges, “why any lawyer would want a job that requires long hours, exacting skill and intense devotion – while promising high stress, solitary confinement, and guaranteed criticism.”
“The answer lies in the rewards of public service,” Roberts wrote.
Safety of judges
Roberts also oversees the Judicial Conference, the policy making body for the federal court. It includes a committee on Judicial Security established in 2005 after Judge Joan Lefkow’s mother and husband were murdered.
In testimony before Congress, Judge Lefkow made a plea to lawmakers: “I ask you to publicly and persistently repudiate gratuitous attacks on the judiciary,” she said.
“It seems to me that even though we cannot prove a cause and effect relationship between rhetorical attacks on judges and violent acts of vengeance by a particular litigant, fostering disrespect for judges can only encourage those that are on the edge, or the fringe, to exact revenge on a judge who ruled against them,” she said.
This isn’t the first time Trump’s gone after a judge.
Last summer, Trump went after US District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who had ruled against him in a Trump University lawsuit. Although Curiel was born in Indiana, Trump said he was in an “absolute conflict” in presiding over litigation given that he was of “Mexican heritage.”
Noel Francisco, Trump’s acting solicitor general, has started his new job off with a flurry of litigation. But even after the current controversy is settled he will appear before the justices many times over the next few years to argue the government’s position.
Francisco is a seasoned lawyer and he will argue before justices who are not unfamiliar with the political debates that often swirl outside of the Supreme Court building. Indeed, the justices received a public scolding in 2010 from President Barack Obama at the State of the Union concerning the Citizens United campaign finance decision. But that was not singling out one justice.
Trump’s attacks on judges won’t do Francisco any favors.
Gorsuch will face questions
And they will certainly further cloud the upcoming hearings for Gorsuch, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. He already has to deal with Democratic senators furious about last year’s treatment of Obama nominee Merrick Garland. Now Gorsuch will have to field questions about Trump’s views on the judiciary, and whether he can be independent from the man who appointed him to the bench.
Trump’s tweet received nearly 125,000 “likes” by Monday afternoon. Attacks, however, came in from lawyers on both sides of the spectrum.
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, suggested there was a level of intimidation in the tweets.
“By levying attacks and slights on judges, the President is creating an environment that suggests judges must be prepared to carry out his bidding,” she said.
Josh Blackman, a law professor at Southern Texas College of Law in Houston, called the comments a “rant” that’s par for the course for Trump.
“He lost certain primaries because they were rigged,” Blackman wrote of Trump. “He lost the popular vote because of illegal votes. Etc. Everything that goes against him must be because of some factors exogenous to the rules.”