The president’s smear of a federal judge who temporarily halted the travel ban undermines judicial independence and could encourage defiance.
The morning after a federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of a travel ban targeting seven Muslim-majority countries, President Donald Trump did what he often does when faced with a challenge: He launched a personal attack on Twitter at someone he saw as an opponent.
In his first public response to the nationwide halt of his week-old executive order, Trump appeared to suggest that U.S. District Judge James Robart of the Western District of Washington, who was appointed by a Republican president, wasn’t legitimate and that his decision would soon be made irrelevant.
That kind of comment from a sitting president, legal experts warned, could lead to a constitutional crisis by eroding the independence of the judiciary and signaling to government agencies that they should ignore legal decisions that clash with the president’s agenda.
“Already, the court of appeals will need to worry that if it rules against Judge Robart (as perhaps it should, on the legal merits), it will validate Trump’s attack on the judiciary in the public mind,” Eric Posner, a law professor at the University of Chicago, wrote on Saturday. “If it does not,” Posner continued, “the court of appeals will be seen as a partisan enemy of the president.”
In fact, late on Saturday night, the White House was dealt another blow when a U.S. appeals court denied a Department of Justice request to immediately restore the president’s travel ban.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement on Friday night that the Justice Department will seek an emergency stay “of this outrageous order.” Spicer issued a nearly identical statement on Saturday morning ― but cut the word “outrageous” from the later version.