Just hours after a federal judge blocked enforcement of his travel ban targeting seven Muslim-majority countries, Donald Trump did what he often does when faced with a challenge: He descended into a Twitter rant and launched a personal attack at someone he saw as an opponent.
“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”, Trump wrote on Twitter.
With his comment, Trump appeared to suggest that U.S. District Judge James Robart of the Western District of Washington, who was appointed by a Republican president, wasn’t legitimate and that his decision would soon be made irrelevant.
Well, as legal experts note, that kind of response from this ‘so called president’, could lead to a constitutional crisis by eroding the independence of the judiciary and signaling to government agencies that they should ignore legal decisions that clash with the president’s agenda.
Thankfully, a U.S. Federal Appeals Court early Sunday sided with Judge Robart, denying a request by the Justice Department to immediately restore Trump’s immigration order.
The ruling by the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco dealt a further setback to Trump and invalidates his attack on the judiciary.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement on Friday night that the Justice Department will seek an emergency stay “of this outrageous order.”
Hours later, Trump sent tweets bashing Robart’s decision as “ridiculous” and “terrible.” Because of the judge, Trump wrote, “many very bad and dangerous people may be pouring into our country.”
“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.?”‘ Trump ranted.
He then followed with more incendiary tweets:
In addition to placing judges in a politically fraught situation, the president’s Twitter rant may “embolden Trump loyalists in the executive branch of the government to disregard judicial orders,” warned Eric Posner, a law professor at the University of Chicago.
That type of scenario may already be unfolding. Earlier this week, several members of Congress and attorneys accused Customs and Border Patrol agents of continuing to detain travelers from the seven banned countries, even after federal judges in New York, Virginia, and Massachusetts ordered a temporary halt on deporting individuals who had already arrived in the U.S. with visas.
It’s not unheard of for sitting presidents to make known their disagreements with judicial decisions. In his 2010 State of the Union speech, former President Barack Obama warned that the Supreme Court decision on the Citizens United case would open “the floodgates for special interests” in Washington. But even then, Obama avoided criticizing any particular judge and did not challenge the legitimacy of the the decision.
But “to single out an individual judge and accuse him crudely of not being worthy of his judicial robes may well be unprecedented, noted Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard University.
This wasn’t the first time Trump tried to discredit a judge. During the presidential campaign, he attacked Judge Gonzalo Curiel, a federal jurist overseeing lawsuits against Trump University. Trump, who previously had called Mexicans criminals, said that Curiel, who was born in Indiana, was not capable of doing his job because of his Mexican heritage.
“It fits a troubling pattern of Trump treating those who disagree with him with contempt,” said Geoffrey Stone who teaches law at the University of Chicago. “Such bullying behavior is juvenile and ultimately dangerous to our democracy.”
But what makes Trump even more dangerous is the shameless cowardice shown by his Republican allies who have remained silent while their ‘so called president’ drives our country towards the edge of the cliff, at full speed, with no intention of hitting the brakes.
As of Saturday evening, the only lawmakers to criticize Trump’s attack on Robart were Democrats.
“The President’s hostility toward the rule of law is not just embarrassing, it is dangerous,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a statement on Saturday. “He seems intent on precipitating a constitutional crisis.”