“We had a very smooth roll out of the travel ban, but we had a bad court. We’ve had a bad decision,” US President Donald Trump said at his White House press conference after the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit restrained his executive order affecting seven Muslim countries.
For good measure, the US president added that the ninth circuit “is in chaos ... that circuit is frankly in turmoil.”
When federal “so-called” Judge James Robart made the initial order to block Trump’s executive ban, the US president tweeted: “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”
On Thursday last week, an appeals court refused to reinstate Trump’s travel ban.
When another judge blocked the US president’s order to withhold funding from cities and towns that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities, the White House put out a statement that read: “[The] San Francisco judge’s erroneous ruling is a gift to the criminal gang and cartel element in our country... This case is yet one more example of egregious overreach by a single, unelected district judge.”
Judges get no respect from the US president, unless they are a hand-picked “originalist” like Neil Gorsuch, his US Supreme Court appointment. The White House ceremony announcing his nominee to a bunch of claqueurs was a sight for sore eyes. Like a sideshow barker, Trump introduced Gorsuch and “his wonderful wife Louise ... Here they come. So was that a surprise — was it?”
This was the appointment that had been stolen from the Democrats, because the US Senate refused to consider former US president Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, to replace the recently departed Antonin Scalia.
“The presumption should be that Gorsuch does not deserve confirmation, because the process that led to his nomination was illegitimate,” the New York Times said.
Judges who do not toe the line are bad judges in bad courts. Illegitimate appointments of judges who are dyed-in-the-wool conservatives are “brilliant.”
This is the world of a president who has a distorted grasp of the constitutional construct and his place in it. Little wonder that he wants to be judge and executioner.
One of his many obsessions during the election campaign was the US soldier Sergeant Bowe Bergdhal, who went missing from his unit in Afghanistan and was captured by the Taliban, until released in a swap with Guantanamo prisoners.
Bergdhal now faces a court martial, but as far as Trump is concerned, he has already been found guilty.
“He deserted. Remember the old days? A deserter, what happened? Bang. Twenty years ago it was bang,” he told a slathering mod of supporters and just to ram it home he gave a rifle-shooting gesture.
We also saw this failure to grasp constitutional niceties and the separation of powers when he sought to fix the FBI’s investigation into the role Russia played in last year’s US presidential election. Maybe it also slipped his mind that the first article of former US president Richard Nixon’s impeachment was “obstruction of justice.”
We saw it too with his less-than-perfect grasp of the first amendment: “I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”
Clearly, he had not factored in whether the Supreme Court might have other ideas about the freedom of the press and how much money could be won.
Then we have Article 1, section 9, clause 8 of the US constitution, about which Trump seems quite oblivious.
This is the “emoluments” clause, which Harvard law professors believe the US president is violating, largely because he is a beneficiary of potentates, diplomats and other foreign emissaries paying to stay at his over-gilded hotels and clubs.
Quite apart from constitutional requirements there is his flagrant breach of decency by retaining ownership of the Trump organization, now run by his gormless sons. The potential for corruption is also ably assisted by the fact the log book of visitors to the White House is now under lock and key or has disappeared entirely.
It is evident that great danger is posed to the US by a president who does not understand his constitutional duty, the separation of powers and the limits of his remit.
It is as though he is still running his companies, where he can bark orders at people and they jump. You wonder how long it takes to sink in that barking orders at the US Congress, the courts and the media does not produce the same response.
No wonder people have unearthed the 25th Amendment to the US constitution and are examining it with fresh eyes. It deals with “presidential vacancy, disability and inability.”
Where a president is emotionally and intellectually ill-equipped for the job and raddled by delusions, the courts and a truth-seeking media become even more important.
In Australia, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton, who carries a field marshal’s baton in his knapsack, is on a mission to bring the courts and the media into line.
Australian Broadcasting Corp’s (ABC) Q&A program is never far from the top of the minister’s pet obsessions.
Last week’s installment of the program got right up his nostril, apparently because physicist Lawrence Krauss said Americans and others are more likely to be killed by a falling refrigerator than a terrorist.
Dutton said ABC has a “cultural problem,” Q&A is a “waste of taxpayers’ money” and the board “needs to deal with it.”
He did not cite any statistics to rebut Krauss’ assertion about refrigerators, but maybe he would be happier if the fridge-to-terror death ratio was a little less uneven.
He was beating the same drum following Zaky Mallah’s appearance on the program almost two years ago.
Q&A had “lost the plot, ABC journalists are running a “protection racket,” etc, etc, he said.
If the minister as editor-in-chief is not daunting enough, he also seeks to set the agenda for judges and magistrates.
He has ably assisted in his mission of whack-a-judge by the Rupert Murdoch press and, because judges are not permitted to speak up for themselves, the Judicial Conference of Australia has to do it for them.
He has also turned on Justice Duncan Kerr, the president of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and a former Labor minister for justice.
“When you look at some of the judgements that are made, the sentences that are handed down ... [it’s] always interesting to go back and look at the appointment of the particular Labor government of the day,” Dutton said, without being troubled by notions like the separation of powers.
The minister provided no evidence about decisions of Justice Kerr that had been infected by Labor party policies, while the Judicial Conference of Australia had to point out that the president of the tribunal cannot direct the findings and decisions of other members, and in any event the Administrative Appeals Tribunal does not hand down “sentences.”
As its name suggests, it reviews “administrative” decisions.
In February, in the wake of a bail decision that saw a killer released from custody, Dutton described Queensland magistrates as “left-wing softies ... [and] hopeless.”
“If you appoint civil libertarians to court benches ... you will get soft sentences and that’s exactly what’s happened here,” he said.
We are living in troubled times. When politicians with an imperfect grasp of propriety are bullying the judiciary and the media, more than ever those two institutions need to hold their ground.
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