The Slatest

Chief Justice Roberts Issues Extraordinary Thanksgiving Rebuke of Trump’s Attacks on the Judiciary

John Roberts.
Chief Justice John Roberts speaks in Washington on May 14.
Jim Watson/Getty Images

U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts issued an exceedingly rare statement Wednesday reaffirming the independence of the American judiciary in response to President Trump’s withering criticism of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.* A 9th Circuit judge in Northern California issued a temporary restraining order Tuesday halting the new Trump administration policy that prohibits migrants that enter the country illegally from seeking asylum.

“It’s a disgrace when every case gets filed in the 9th Circuit,” Trump said in a lengthy rant against the court’s decision. “That’s not law. Every case in the 9th Circuit we get beaten and then we end up having to go to the Supreme Court like the travel ban and we won. Every case, no matter where it is, they file is practically, for all intents and purposes, they file it in what’s called the 9th Circuit. This was an Obama judge. I’ll tell you what, it’s not going to happen like this anymore.”

Trump’s outburst is the latest in a series of corrosive presidential attacks on the judiciary over the past nearly two years. As president, Trump has railed against his opponents’ preference for filing lawsuits against his policies in the liberal-leaning 9th Circuit Court of Appeals; during Obama’s presidency many of the Obama administration’s policies were challenged by the right in the conservative-leaning 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The 9th Circuit is the largest federal appellate court in the country, covering Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. There are currently more than twice as many judges appointed by Democratic presidents than Republican ones on the 9th Circuit, 16 judges to 7, but Trump has the opportunity to remake the composition of the court with five nominees to the 9th Circuit with one more vacancy to fill.

Roberts’ comments Wednesday, coming from the Chief Justice, amounted to an extraordinary rebuke of the president’s rhetoric degrading the courts. Trump’s deriding the justice who heard the asylum case as an “Obama judge” seemed to particularly Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, the most. “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said. “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.”

Trump took the opportunity to double back on the low road, shooting back:

Correction, Nov. 22, 2018: This post originally misidentified John Roberts as chief justice of the Supreme Court. He is chief justice of the United States.