The legal issues involving President Trump’s travel ban executive order are fascinating and complex. But equally significant have been the President’s attacks on the judiciary. It is one thing for a President to say that he disagrees with a ruling, that he has confidence in the constitutionality and legality of his actions, and that he is instructing his attorneys to appeal—but that is not what Trump has done. Instead, he has attacked the district court judge who issued the nationwide temporary restraining order as a “so-called judge,” he has called the Ninth Circuit opinion denying a stay “disgraceful,” and he has urged people to blame the judiciary if “something happens.” These kinds of statements reflect a dangerous attack on the very legitimacy of an independent judiciary.
An independent federal judiciary is an indispensable part of our system of checks and balances. One of the important purposes of checks and balances, as contemplated by the Framers, is to prevent the seizure by factions of Congress and the Executive Branch. Another is to prevent over-reaching by both branches of government.
At this point the Trump administration is not likely, for political reasons, to be checked by either House of Congress, so it is the federal judiciary that will have to do much of the heavy lifting. For that reason, we all should vehemently protest the President’s recent ad hominem attacks on two federal judges: the federal judge presiding over the Trump University case and the federal judge in Seattle who recently issued a temporary restraining order against much of the President’s executive immigration order. Though the Supreme Court is our last resort, the entire federal judiciary is our first line of defense and must be protected at all costs.
Professor Carolyn Shapiro was quoted in a January 30, 2017, Slate article about what happens if federal employees or officials from the executive branch ignore a federal court order.