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
“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.