When Trump Attacks Judicial Authority, Whose Authority is Left?
We must take the President’s attacks on the court system for what they are: a threat to American democracy
When Donald Trump announced an executive order halting all travel and immigration from six majority-Muslim nations, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals acted quickly in halting the order and refusing to reinstate it, declaring it unconstitutional. Just this last week, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California struck down Trump’s executive order banning sanctuary cities.
In response, many around the world breathed a sigh of relief as it appeared that logic and American values of liberty and diversity were protected in a democratic, judicially-sanctioned manner. Yet, on the other side of the aisle, the response was much different.
The Ninth Circuit Court, which comprises of Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, and Washington, has long been considered liberal and anti-American by conservatives, and is a common target for many conservative pundits and legislators. Now, in the wake of two consecutive executive orders being repealed in the region, President Trump has stated he is “absolutely” considering breaking up the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and senators such as Ted Cruz have voiced support for such a move. Such a move is incredibly threatening — considering that a district court, not the Ninth Circuit, blocked the sanctuary cities order, Trump’s response is purely reactionary, opportunistic, and based on an untrue assumption about which court is actually blocking his actions.
The fact that President Trump is responding to the overturning of his executive orders in this manner is not entirely surprising. As those who know him well have stated, Trump’s “ego is beyond egoism” , and he has clearly displayed his disrespect for outside authority in the first months of his presidency. Just days after taking office, Trump’s ego and total disregard for the judicial system was already on full display in a flurry of tweets denouncing “so-called judges” and the judicial system for temporarily halting his unconstitutional travel ban. Even before his time in office, Trump attacked Judge Gonzalo Curiel on the basis of his Mexican heritage constituting “an inherent conflict of interest” while overseeing a fraud lawsuit against Trump University. Despite the shocking realities of Trump’s past denial of the authority of the law, the threat of actually breaking up a court on bogus assertions takes Trump’s apparent disregard for judicial authority to an entirely new level.
In the past, this disregard has taken the form of loaded rhetoric on Twitter or verbal attacks in press conferences. The fact that Trump has threatened to now entirely defy judicial authority and act to break up a functioning Circuit Court that disagrees with him should send a measure of shock to all lovers of freedom and democracy.
The Circuit Court system is a landmark of American democracy, and was founded in 1891 based on the vision of the founders of the American political system. In The Federalist Paper no. 78, Founding Father Alexander Hamilton outlines the role that the courts will play in American democracy and states that “Whenever a particular statute contravenes the Constitution, it will be the duty of the judicial tribunals to adhere to the latter and disregard the former.” In threatening to break up the Ninth Circuit, therefore, President Trump is seeking to extend his personal power by attacking an essential democratic institution meant to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America.
What Trump and those around him have displayed thus far, through actions and threats such as this, is that they will go to almost any lengths to extend the President’s power. If this means changing Senate rules to defy a filibuster and confirm a stolen Supreme Court pick, so be it. If this means breaking up a court, so be it. There apparently is no limit to power in the mind of Donald Trump and the opportunistic legislators who blindly support him without any consideration for the average American citizen.
If Trump were to act on his claim of breaking up the Ninth Circuit Court, what would occur would be a tremendous display of force and total disregard for any judicial authority in the United States. This rhetoric, let alone the potential action, should put American citizens, as well as citizens worldwide, on high alarm. If Donald Trump attempts to break up the Ninth Circuit, it confirms a fear that many people already harbor: the President believes his authority to be limitless.
We must then ask ourselves: When Donald Trump attacks judicial authority, whose authority is left? We live in a society where any vestige of the common good, of democracy, and of freedom is being attacked and dismantled. With Donald Trump at the helm, it seems that this frightening trend will continue. The threat of a total concentration of power in the hands of billionaires, corporations and the legislators that work for them seems to be a growing reality. And the destruction of anything stopping them- even judicial authority- is on the table.