A gavel sits on a desk inside the Court of Appeals at the new Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, which celebrated its official opening on Monday Jan. 14, 2013, in Denver. 
Photo by Brennan Linsley/AP

Trump explains his indifference to recent defeats in court

The Rachel Maddow Show, 10/11/19, 9:48 PM ET

Trump suffers legal 'body blow' among collection of court losses

Neal Katyal, former acting U.S. solicitor general, talks with Rachel Maddow about the day’s string of bad legal news for Donald Trump, particularly in a case in which he was trying to prevent Congress from having access to his tax returns.
On a variety of fronts, the federal judiciary has been a nagging thorn in Donald Trump’s side. The president’s Census scheme, for example, was blocked in the courts. So was his family-separation policy. And his DACA scheme.

And it’s not just his policy agenda that’s suffered. The Republican’s emoluments controversy persists in the courts, as does his struggling effort to hide his tax returns indefinitely.

On Friday afternoon, Trump suffered a series of embarrassing legal setbacks, including defeats in cases related to his border barriers and his so-called “public charge” rule, among other things But what struck me as notable was the president’s response when a reporter asked him on Friday afternoon about the court losses, some of which he said he hadn’t yet heard about. Trump expressed confidence that his positions would ultimately prevail and explained why:

“I’ve had a great track record. And right now, within a couple of weeks, we will have 160 judges. And within a couple of months, we’ll have 182 federal judges. And we are breaking records like nobody has ever seen in that regard, as you know.”

In other words, as Trump sees it, his recent court defeats are merely temporary. Soon, even more of his judges will be on the bench, at which point the courts will rule in his favor and give him what he wants.

At a certain level, there may be some truth underpinning the president’s expectations: Trump and Senate Republicans have stacked the courts with young, far-right ideologues, chosen by far-right entities, who may very well serve as an extension of the GOP machine.

But as a rule, presidents at least try to keep up appearances and say their judicial nominees will be fair arbiters, not predictable partisans. Trump sees no need to maintain the pretense: he expects his judges to deliver for him.

About a year ago, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, pushing back against Trump’s condemnation of an “Obama judge,” explained that the United States doesn’t have “Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges.”

Evidently, Trump didn’t understand or fully appreciate Roberts’ response.

Postscript: The Republican president’s confidence may be bolstered in part by judges such as D.C. Circuit Appeals Court Judge Neomi Rao, whose awful dissent in last week’s ruling on Trump’s tax returns was widely panned for being overtly political.

That said, I hope you caught Rachel’s segment on Friday about the ways in which Rao’s controversial ruling wasn’t quite as helpful to Trump as the White House might have liked.