Roberts: Why he defended the judiciary against Trump
Under normal circumstances, Supreme Court justices strenuously avoid commenting on politics, said Dara Lind in Vox.com. But “President Trump has finally annoyed Chief Justice John Roberts enough for Roberts to speak out.” The chief justice issued a rare public rebuke of President Trump last week, after Trump sneeringly referred to a federal judge who temporarily blocked the administration’s new asylum policy as an “Obama judge.” “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.” This is hardly the first time Trump has attacked the legitimacy of courts that rule against him, said John Cassidy in NewYorker.com. So why did Roberts choose to speak up now? With the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Trump “has made it clear that he sees the [Supreme] Court as his political ally,” boasting about how the administration will win there now that it has a solid, 5-4 conservative majority. “Read between the lines of Roberts’ statement, and he appears to be saying, ‘Not so fast, Mr. President. We are not your poodle.’”
Trump is right, said Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post. “Everyone, left and right,” knows that presidents appoint judges who share their ideological leanings. That’s why Republicans blocked Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland and why Democrats tried to filibuster Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch. In 2016, exit polls showed that 70 percent of voters said Supreme Court appointments were an important factor in deciding their presidential vote. In complaining about judges, “Trump finds himself in good company,” said Daniel Flynn in The American Spectator. Presidents have lashed out against rulings they don’t like going back to Thomas Jefferson and Marbury v. Madison. President Obama infamously dressed down the Supreme Court justices present at his 2010 State of the Union Address over their decision in the Citizens United campaign finance case. Trump’s grousing is “hardly atypical.” Roberts’ decision to criticize the president is.
“Roberts certainly knows that his own statement is a lie,” said Peter Dreier in The American Prospect. But Roberts is a much savvier politician than Trump. A lifelong conservative, Roberts has used his perch at the top of the nation’s highest court to achieve Republican goals such as rolling back the Voting Rights Act, loosening rules on corporate spending in politics, and weakening the power of labor unions. Roberts knows that for such rulings to have lasting legitimacy, the court needs to preserve at least a veneer of independence. That means Trump better not count on Roberts’ vote, said Noah Feldman in Bloomberg.com. In order to preserve the court’s prestige and “the rule of law,” the chief justice might look for select areas to check the president’s power when there’s a credible legal argument for doing so, like refusing to shield the president from special counsel Robert Mueller or House Democrats.
A major constitutional crisis may be coming, said Ross Douthat in The New York Times. “The Supreme Court’s legal supremacy over the White House depends on the presidency’s willingness to accept the court’s rulings.” This president is probably “too politically weak” to win a stark power struggle with the Roberts court, but sooner or later, a showdown between the increasingly powerful executive branch and the judiciary is coming. “That’s the important message of Trump v. Roberts. Let those with ears hear.” ■