Donald Trump and the courts: Are checks-and-balances working?

By Ludy Astraquillo Ongkeko, Ph.D.

Hearing from Colorado Judge Neil Gorsuch, the Supreme Court pick of the 45th U.S. president is sober reality amid those sectors of the populace who have been keeping tab on the White House’s very recent executive orders.

The Gorsuch commentary that the president’s criticism of independent judges is “demoralizing” and “disheartening” is not a bolt from the ‘traditional blue.’ It arrived in time to usher in a sense of sanity to Washington and hopefully to cool down untold passions across the country.

Recounting what had arisen during Trump’s presidential campaign when he widely challenged the integrity of a federal judge presiding over a lawsuit against Trump University is just one example of what was termed by political analysts as “trash talk on judges.” Trump insisted the U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel couldn’t be “impartial” because of his Mexican ancestry. He was widely criticized for his “racist” comments, even from politicians within his own party.

Comes now a new round of attacks focused on the independence of the federal judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. This panel placed a ‘temporary hold’ on the Trump executive order blocking travelers from seven mostly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. Trump said “only politics or bias would lead a judge to rule against the order.”

As Trump reiterated what he pursued against the aforementioned jurist, U.S. District Judge James Robart, wasn’t just a gross insult. There was a strong implication here that the judge lacked the very authority to rule on the legality of Trump’s executive order. By subjecting his order to constitutional and legal examination, Trump is suggesting that the “judicial system might be putting the nation at risk.”

“The judge opens up our country to potential terrorists and others that do not have our best interests at heart…Bad people are very happy! Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and the court system. People pouring in. Bad!” Trump made these inflammatory statements.

Flashback to Judge Gorsuch comments. He was reacting to Trump’s objectionable statements the way any responsible jurist would. Although in history each presidency has had bends in the road, only a scarce number went through similar barriers as Trump has been experiencing since January 21, 2017.

It would be interesting to find out the backstory to Gorsuch’s statement seemingly at odds with Donald Trump’s mindset. He was nominated to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created following the death of the legendary Justice Antonin Scalia. He is known as a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, but known also for his independent mind.

Will more and more questions surface that bear watching in relation to “Trumpism?” Will Trump and his ‘select’ aides look into whether or not flaws have been committed when executive orders like the one battling the courts will force them into defense?

Another query that requires an instant response: How will Trump continue to navigate the federal courts system?

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