Trump's offensive against Justice Sotomayor crumbles under scrutiny

The more Donald Trump tries to go after Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the less sense his argument makes.
Portrait of Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her office chambers at the Supreme Court in Washington.Brooks Kraft / Corbis via Getty Images

Responding to something he saw on Fox News, Donald Trump interrupted his India trip overnight to lash out at two U.S. Supreme Court justices -- a remarkable rarity in the American tradition. In fact, as far as the president is concerned, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg "should recuse themselves on all Trump, or Trump related, matters!"

It's no coincidence that some important "Trump-related matters" are coming up at the high court, and the president has an incentive to discourage two progressive jurists from hearing the cases.

But the offensive wasn't limited to some unfortunate tweets. During a press conference in India earlier today, Trump again demanded that the justices recuse themselves from cases involving him and his team. Time reported:

"She said some things that were obviously inappropriate," Trump said of Sotomayor during a news conference in New Delhi on Tuesday, where he's completing a two-day visit to India. ... "I just don't know how they cannot recuse themselves for anything Trump or Trump-related," Trump said.

When Fox News' John Roberts asked what Sotomayor wrote that was inappropriate, the president replied, "You know what she said, John."

I think it's a safe bet Trump has no idea what the justice said.

Let's back up and review how we arrived at this point. In August, the administration unveiled a policy known as a public-charge rule -- or as it's sometimes known, a "wealth test" -- intended to deny green cards to immigrants who are considered likely to rely on public benefits.

Litigation, naturally, ensued. Last week, however, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the administration the green light to implement the public-charge rule, prompting Sotomayor to publish a seven-page dissent, making a compelling case that the Trump administration keeps losing in the lower courts, and then scrambling to the high court, assuming conservative justices will follow the White House's lead.

"Claiming one emergency after another, the government has recently sought stays in an unprecedented number of cases, demanding immediate attention and consuming limited court resources in each," the progressive justice wrote in Wolf v. Cook County. "And with each successive application, of course, its cries of urgency ring increasingly hollow."

Sotomayor added, "It is hard to say what is more troubling. That the government would seek this extraordinary relief seemingly as a matter of course, or that the Court would grant it."

This was hardly an outlandish assessment. In fact, it's bolstered by an extensive record.

Those looking for "obviously inappropriate" content in Sotomayor's dissent will be looking for a very long time.

In his tweet on the subject, Trump wrote that Sotomayor accused the Republican-appointed justices "of being biased in favor of Trump." Except, that's not even close to being what she wrote.

As Steve Vladeck summarized, the Sotomayor story is a microcosm of a larger problem: "(1) Fox runs a story saying she accused #SCOTUS majority of pro-Trump bias. (2) Trump amplifies Fox and demands her recusal. (3) No one actually reads her 7-page dissent -- which says nothing about Trump or pro-Trump bias."

Trump added this morning, "I think what she did say was she's trying to shame people with perhaps a different view into voting her way. And that's so inappropriate."

I realize the president is relatively new to government, and he's struggled at times with Civics 101, but as long as there's been a Supreme Court, there have been justices trying to shame their colleagues into agreeing with them.