President Donald Trump has made few friends during his time in office, and this past week in a speech at the University of Virginia’s School of Law, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves took on a particular aspect of the president’s belligerence — his endless antagonism of the justice system.
On numerous occasions, Trump has alleged that particular judges and judicial officials are essentially out to get him when cases against him or his associates have proceeded. He’s gone so far as to assert the United States must “get rid of judges” to appropriately respond to the immigration “crisis” at the southern border, and Reeves connected all of these points to historical harsh treatment of the judicial system by racists.
As he put it in his remarks on the occasion of accepting the 2019 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law:
‘When politicians attack courts as “dangerous,” “political,” and guilty of “egregious overreach,” you can hear the Klan’s lawyers, assailing officers of the court across the South. When leaders chastise people for “merely using the courts,” you can hear the Citizens Council, hammering up the names of black petitioners in Yazoo City… As a black judge, accepting an award named for a man whose views on race cannot be untethered from an assault on the judiciary, I must stand up and speak about that pairing.’
There are many more available examples of Trump’s antagonism of the justice system that went far enough to spark allegations of obstruction of justice that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation handled. For instance, he has suggested (as other conservatives have) that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals should be disbanded because it’s supposedly biased against conservatives. In reality, considering the volume of cases handled, the number whose Ninth Circuit decisions have been overturned by a higher judicial authority isn’t really that remarkable. Between 2010 and 2015, a period whose data Politifact reviewed, the system wasn’t even the most overturned circuit in the country. In reality, it placed third, but Trump ran after the court with angry rhetoric anyway on the occasions of rulings against some of his key policies, like his repeatedly attempted Muslim travel ban.
That gives the perfect backdrop for Reeves’ comment:
‘The slander and falsehoods thrown at courts today are not those of a critic, seeking to improve the judiciary’s search for truth. They are those of an attacker, seeking to distort and twist that search towards falsehood.’
Judges have spoken out against the president’s rhetoric before. Current U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, for instance, took the rare step of directly rebuffing the president’s assertion that “Obama judges” were skewing the courts against his agenda. Roberts asserted there were no such thing, but instead, by and large, there are only judges seeking to uphold an impartial rule of law. That’s the whole point.
Covering many other topics, Trump has lied thousands and thousands of times since taking office, with the lie per day rate increasing dramatically when he talks publicly more, like in the weeks ahead of the midterm elections last year. Although he’s escaped legal consequences in some of the areas in which he’s wielded his lies about the judiciary, there are a number of open lines of inquiry against him, including the multiple investigations into his inaugural committee.
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