Trump locks horns with CJ over judiciary independence

US Chief Justice John Roberts pointedly defended the independence of the federal judiciary on Wednesday after President Donald Trump criticised the courts once again.
United States President Donald Trump (right) speaking to Chief Justice John Roberts in Washington in January. The Chief Justice has himself been the target of Mr Trump's attacks.
United States President Donald Trump (right) speaking to Chief Justice John Roberts in Washington in January. The Chief Justice has himself been the target of Mr Trump's attacks. PHOTO: REUTERS

US Chief Justice issues statement defending judiciary in response to President's criticism of 'Obama judge'

WASHINGTON • US Chief Justice John Roberts defended the inde-pendence of the federal judiciary on Wednesday, a day after President Donald Trump called a judge who ruled against his policy barring asylum for certain immigrants an "Obama judge".

But Mr Trump rejected the rebuke, chided the Chief Justice and launched a new round of attacks.

The remarks by the Chief Justice represented his first public response to Mr Trump over the Republican President's persistent criticism of the federal courts.

Opponents of Mr Trump have called his criticism of judges an attack on the rule of law in the Uni-ted States.

"We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges," Justice Roberts, a conservative who was appointed by Republican former president George W. Bush, said in a statement released by the Supreme Court in response to a news media inquiry.

"What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for," he added in the statement, which did not mention Mr Trump by name.

In a Twitter post, Mr Trump wrote in response: "Sorry, Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have 'Obama judges', and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country."

It is unusual for a US Chief Justice, who presides over the nine-member US Supreme Court, to issue such a statement in response to a president.

The US Constitution established the federal judiciary as a co-equal branch of government with the executive and legislative branches as part of a system of checks and balances on power.

American presidents nominate federal judges, and the Senate confirms them.

Justice Roberts, who administered the oath of office to Mr Trump when he was sworn in as president last year, has himself been the target of Mr Trump's attacks, in particular because of a 2012 ruling that preserved Mr Obama's signature domestic policy achievement, the Affordable Care Act dubbed Obamacare.

In a tweet after that ruling, Mr Trump wrote: "Congratulations to John Roberts for making Americans hate the Supreme Court because of his BS."

Mr Trump on Tuesday took aim at US District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco, who on Monday temporarily blocked an order by the President that barred asylum for immigrants who enter the country illegally from Mexico.

Judge Tigar was appointed by Democratic former president Barack Obama. "This was an Obama judge," Mr Trump said.

"And I will tell you what. It is not going to happen like this anymore."

The President also blasted the entire San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears appeals from federal courts in nine western states, including California. He called the liberal-leaning 9th Circuit a "disgrace".

That court has ruled against Mr Trump in several high-profile cases, including his travel ban targeting people from several Muslim-majority countries and his bid to rescind a programme that protects from deportation hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants brought into the country as children.

In Twitter posts on Wednesday, Mr Trump heaped scorn on the idea that the 9th Circuit "was indeed an 'independent judiciary' ", and again brought up the idea of breaking up that court because the region it covers is "too big".

He added: "Judicial activism, by people who know nothing about security and the safety of our citizens, is putting our country in great danger. Not good."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2018, with the headline 'Trump locks horns with CJ over judiciary independence'. Print Edition | Subscribe