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Monday, April 15, 2024

Why now, Justice Roberts?


Fox News headlines what we are already learning from historians 1, that this is with one less extreme exception 2  an unprecedented public rebuke of a president by a Supreme Court justice, let alone a chief justice appointed by a member of the president’s own party, with “Trump slams Chief Justice Roberts, insists there are ‘Obama judges’ after asylum ruling.”

This is what Roberts said in his statement:

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

This is how The New York Times describes the significance of what Roberts wrote “That blunt statement may represent a turning point in the relationship between the heads of two branches of the federal government, which until Wednesday had been characterized by slashing attacks from the president and studied restraint from the chief justice.”

Consider this.  First the chief justice rebukes the president. Then in his response he president “slams” the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court. It is positively mind-boggling.

I think there is a lot more to Justice Robert’s timing than Trump calling a judge who had ruled against his administration’s asylum policy “an Obama judge.” In fact in also saying that Trump has a  “profound misunderstanding of the judicial role” I believe he has been watching the news very closely when it comes to how Trump thinks he can treat the judicial system as a Gestapo-like arm of the executive which most follow his every directive even if it flying in the face of the rue of law.

I have to wonder what prompted  Roberts to make this extraordinary rebuke, really a dressing down considering his position as head of the third branch of government, now. I think it was because the final straw was Trump’s complaining about a decision from Judge Jon S. Tigar, of the United States District Court in San Francisco because he ordered the administration to resume accepting asylum claims from migrants whether or not they entered at an official point of entry.

After all, Roberts remained silent when Trump attacked Judge Gonzalo Curiel for his Mexican ancestry.

I think he is doing this now because Trump’s accumulated assaults on the Constitution and the rule of law reached a breaking point, and the final straws may have been twofold. One may have been his appointing Matt Whitaker, a political hack and hatchet man as acting Attorney General who is in charge of the Mueller investigation which he could end if it came too close to finding evidence that Trump was guilty of criminal activity 3, and the other the news that Trump tried to order the Justice Department to prosecute Hillary Clinton and James Comey.

Roberts knows that were it not for White House Counsel Don McGahn warning Trump that such an act might lead to impeachment, there likely would have been a Constitutional crisis of enormous proportions if Trump directed DOJ to initiate these prosecutions.

I can’t imagine Roberts not seeing the replays on TV of the debate where Trump said that if elected he would appoint a special prosecutor and see Hillary end up in jail. He has to be aware how Trump even now encourages his rally crowds to chant “lock her up.”

There’s no way to know what was in Roberts’ mind when he issued his statement. However, while I disagree with most of his rulings, I believe he is an ethical jurist who finally listened to his better angels and said to himself  “enough is enough.”

Make no mistake about it, calling this merely a rebuke is a mild description. Roberts, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, just read the riot act to the President of the United States.


1: “Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, called Trump’s comments against the judiciary ‘unprecedented’ in modern history and praised Roberts for defending the Judicial branch. Chief justices have historical avoided fighting with the other co-equal branches of government, but Tobias said he was ‘heartened’ by Wednesday’s break from deference to keep Trump in his lane.” Politico

2: Roberts criticized President Obama for a comment he made in a State of the Union Address.

“U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts spoke publicly to criticize President Barack Obama for his State of the Union — calling his reference to the Citizens United ‘very troubling.’ He implicitly denounced the President for allowing the speech to ‘degenerate[] to a political pep rally.’ Most notably, however, he did not have a single word of objection for fellow conservative Justice Sam Alito for his expression of disagreement during the address.

3: Whitaker could technically end the Mueller investigation but it might not be as simple as cutting off funding or firing Mueller. As Lucian Truscout1 IV notes in “Trump is Terrified” in Salon 

Trump has the same problem ( that firing Mueller would be seen as an admission of guilt) with his appointment of Matthew Whitaker as attorney general. He spent so much time yelling about Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the Russia investigation that firing Sessions isn’t just suspect, it’s yet another admission of guilt. Trump has hobbled Whitaker fatally when it comes to handling Mueller. Anything he touches will be suspect. All because Trump has lied and lied about Russia, and lied and lied about Mueller.

Whitaker is sitting over there at the Department of Justice in his big office, and he’s surrounded by people who worked with and for Mueller when he was director of the FBI. He was FBI director from September 2001 to September 2013. That’s 12 years. You make a lot of friends in 12 years. You engender a lot of loyalty. All of those years of service to the country as director of the FBI aren’t going to evaporate because some hack who used to own nursing homes and sat on the board of a scam company in the patent business moved his office two doors down.

5 thoughts on “Why now, Justice Roberts?”

  1. This is a battle Trump is doomed to lose. He can’t touch anyone already on the federal bench. Roberts would preside over his impeachment, or determine if Trump has to respond to a Mueller subpoena. Pissing him off is political suicide.

  2. Leakers inside the White House were worried about what Trump might do over while he was at Mar a Lago. Indeed, he is still nattering on about it on, of all days, Thanksgiving. The is how it was reported on NPR:

    As of Thursday morning, President Trump was still ruminating on a rare upbraiding from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, continuing attacks against the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and calling it “a complete & total disaster.” (NPR reminds us that the judge that Trump initially attacked isn’t even in the 9th Circuit.)

    “It is out of control, has a horrible reputation,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

    He insisted judges “know nothing” about security and safety issues along the border and alleged they are “making our Country unsafe.” He also said “there will be only bedlam, chaos, injury and death” unless law enforcement can “DO THEIR JOB.”

    A few hours later during a televised teleconference with members of the military, Trump again bashed the San Francisco-based court.

    “We get a lot of bad court decisions from the Ninth Circuit, which has become a big thorn in our side,” he said. “It’s a terrible thing when judges take over your protective services, when they tell you how to protect your border. It’s a disgrace.”

    Moments later he told reporters he has “a lot of respect” for the chief justice but added people interpreting the laws “always give us a bad interpretation.”

  3. From lawyer and MSNBC host Ari Melber:

    “Donald Trump’s literally trying to get his domestic opponents indicted, while his lawyers are demanding an end to the probe into his White House, while also installing a staffer as now acting attorney general who has criticized the Mueller probe repeatedly, and pushing the campaign to oust and potentially prosecute another witness. All this comes after reports that Trump, of course, also tried to fire Bob Mueller as recently as December.”

    “Take it all together. Any one of those things could be an element of the crime of obstruction. But together, a prosecutor or, in our system, a Congress, could find that all of those things are grounds for much more. Which is why Trump’s own lawyers, we reported last night, thanks to The New York Times, are warning him of impeachment over just some of that, and why any process to hold Trump accountable may wind up before — yes — the Supreme Court.”

    If impeached by the House, Roberts then presides over the trial in the Senate. It is the snators who vote to determine his ultimate fate. He might also have to issue rulings effecting Trump earlier in the process. The Supreme Court might have to decide whether Trump must comply with a subpoena from Mueller.

  4. On MSNBC this morning Harry Littman, a former U.S. Attorney and Deputy Assistant Attorney General, just said basically the same thing I did. Asked “why now” he said he thought it was an “accumulation” of things involving Trump’s attacks on the judiciary over the last year. He didn’t call it a “rubuke.” He said that Roberts gave Trump a “tongue lashing.”

  5. Author’s addendum: Trump, at most has six more years in his job, Justice Roberts has his job for life. I have to wonder if this narcisstic president, this emboldened blustering braggart and poseur who believes he has king-like powers, has even thought that he is engaging the 63 year old head-for-life of an equal branch of government in a battle of words that could play out in a battle of consequece in a venue where Roberts has the ultimate power.

    Does he think he can body slam John Roberts like he did in a pro-wrestling stunt the way he did with Vince McMahon? Alas, I suspect this is the way the president’s disordered mind works. Unbelievablly this man was elected president. Google Trump’s greatest Wrestlemania moments if you want to reminded of this.

    Another way to look at this is that while Trump can fire an attorney general or any other member of the Executive Branch he appointed, he can’t fire a justice on the Supreme Court, or any other member of the federal bench for that matter. Trump may think that because the president nominates people to sit on the Supreme Court he has the power to fire them.

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