To no one’s surprise, Donald Trump’s executive order on so-called “sanctuary cities” has been blocked by a federal court. As NBC News’ report explained, the White House’s policy intended to “cut funding from cities that limit cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities,” and U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick didn’t buy it. The president’s order was “clearly unconstitutional” the court found.
What I found especially notable, though, was the White House’s reaction to the court’s decision.
“Today, the rule of law suffered another blow, as an unelected judge unilaterally rewrote immigration policy for our Nation,” a late-night statement from the White House press secretary’s office declared.
“Once again, a single district judge – this time in San Francisco – has ignored Federal immigration law to set a new immigration policy for the entire country,” the statement continued. “This decision occurred in the same sanctuary city that released the 5-time deported illegal immigrant who gunned down innocent Kate Steinle in her father’s arms. San Francisco, and cities like it, are putting the well-being of criminal aliens before the safety of our citizens, and those city officials who authored these policies have the blood of dead Americans on their hands.”
Note, this may seem like a screed from a far-right blog’s comments section, but this was an official statement, released to the press on purpose, by the White House.
There is, to be sure, quite a bit to chew on here. Trump World seems to make the case, for example, that court rulings from American cities the president doesn’t like are somehow inherently suspect.
But I was especially struck by the “unelected judge” criticism. It’s plainly true that U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick wasn’t elected, since no federal judge is ever elected. The underlying point from Team Trump, though, seems to be that the president was elected, and the judge wasn’t, so the latter shouldn’t have the authority to block the unlawful policies of the former.
Our system of government doesn’t work this way. I’m reminded of this Washington Post piece from April, after Trump made similar comments questioning the legitimacy of the federal judiciary.
Charles Geyh, an Indiana University law professor with expertise on judicial conduct and ethics, said Trump is sending a dangerous message in his latest attack on the judiciary: “As the leader of the free world, I should be able to do what I choose. The court shouldn’t be able to get involved.”
Geyh said that attitude shows a lack of understanding of the equal roles of the three branches of government, specifically of the judiciary’s job to serve as a check on the executive branch.
“Presidents have disagreed with court rulings all the time. What’s unusual is he’s essentially challenging the legitimacy of the court’s role. And he’s doing that without any reference to applicable law,” Geyh told The Washington Post. “That they are blocking his order is all the evidence he needs that they are exceeding their authority.”
“That’s worse than wrong,” Geyh added. “On some level, that’s dangerous.”
As we discussed at the time, Trump also told the public earlier this year that the American legal system “is broken” because his Muslim ban had failed in the courts. It was part of a series of related salvos – let’s not forget the references to a “so-called” federal judge and his racist rhetoric about Judge Gonzalo Curiel last year – in which Trump expressed contempt for the judiciary. He’s even made the case that U.S. courts represent some kind of security threat.
This attitude isn’t abating with time.