Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. issued a striking rebuff to President Trump on Wednesday, saying there is no such thing as “Obama judges or Trump judges” and insisting the country’s federal judges uphold their independence from politics.
The scolding — unprecedented for Chief Justice Roberts — took the legal world by surprise and irked Mr. Trump, who responded with a barrage of tweets defending his complaints about anti-Trump judges and telling the judiciary’s leader that his underlings are threatening the country’s security with their rulings.
“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,” the president tweeted Wednesday.
Mr. Trump took to Twitter Thursday morning again in response to Chief Justice Roberts’ rebuke.
“Justice Roberts can say what he wants, but the 9th Circuit is a complete & total disaster. It is out of control, has a horrible reputation, is overturned more than any Circuit in the Country, 79%, & is used to get an almost guaranteed result. Judges must not Legislate Security and Safety at the Border, or anywhere else. They know nothing about it and are making our Country unsafe. Our great Law Enforcement professionals MUST BE ALLOWED TO DO THEIR JOB! If not there will be only bedlam, chaos, injury and death. We want the Constitution as written!” Mr. Trump tweeted.
The brouhaha began Tuesday after Mr. Trump suffered a defeat at the hands of an Obama-appointed judge in California, part of the federal judiciary’s 9th Circuit covering the West Coast, who ruled against a Trump crackdown on immigrants living in the U.S. illegally claiming asylum.
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The president had complained that anti-Trump activists were running to file cases in the 9th Circuit because the judges there wouldn’t given his administration a fair hearing.
Chief Justice Roberts issued a statement through the Supreme Court firing back.
“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them,” the chief justice said. “That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”
The Supreme Court said the statement was in response to a query by The Associated Press.
While jibes between Congress and the president are common, it’s less frequent to see the judiciary step so deeply into political controversies, even in its own defense.
Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston, said he agreed with Chief Justice Roberts’ sentiments, but wondered about the precedent being set.
“Specifically, what was it about President Trump’s most recent statements that occasioned a response? Why didn’t previous statements compel a judicial declaration?” Mr. Blackman said. “Ultimately, I think this sort of statement will backfire. In the future, Roberts will invariably be criticized for not intervening as Trump escalates his attack on the judiciary.”
Mr. Trump had a rough day Tuesday in front of judges appointed by President Obama, though it went well beyond the 9th Circuit and Judge Jon S. Tigar, who blocked the asylum crackdown.
An Obama appointee in Michigan, U.S. District Judge Mark A. Goldsmith, ruled that the Trump administration had to release nearly 100 Iraqi immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, finding the Department of Homeland Security had lied to the court about a deal to deport them to their home country. And in New York, federal Judge Jesse M. Furman, also an Obama appointee, refused to halt a challenge to Mr. Trump’s plans to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 census.
A Washington Times analysis of court decisions on immigration cases over the last 22 months shows a striking lack of success for Mr. Trump in front of Democratic-appointed judges.
This covers a variety of cases, including: the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, detention and separation of immigrant families crossing into the U.S. illegally, ending humanitarian protections for migrants from disaster-stricken countries, sanctuary cities, the 2017 travel ban, allowing government-facilitated abortions for immigrant teens living in the U.S. illegally. Judges appointed by Democrats — and particularly by Mr. Obama — have ruled against him. The only exception is Mr. Trump’s border wall plan, which an Obama-appointed judge allowed to continue.
Republican-appointed judges have a more mixed record, ruling against him on sanctuary cities, splitting over DACA, and mostly backing him on his travel ban and abortions for teens living in the U.S. illegally.
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said the lesson for the president is to knock it off.
“Trump should limit his attacks on the judiciary because they undermine democracy and politicize the courts, and he should attempt to take actions that are legal,” he said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat leading three legal fights against the president, heaped praise on the chief justice for a “powerful rebuke to Trump.”
“When the history of this dark era is written, our independent judiciary (& free press) will be the heroes,” Mr. Blumenthal tweeted.
Mr. Trump did not back down from his criticism, particularly about the 9th Circuit, which covers Hawaii, Alaska, California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Montana and Arizona.
He called the appeals court that oversees the 9th Circuit “a terrible, costly and dangerous disgrace,” and pointed to a high rate of reversal for its decisions.
He suggested splitting the circuit, saying it had become “too big.”
⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this article.