President Trump is under fire again for criticizing federal judges. His latest criticism of a judge comes in connection with Roger Stone’s case.
I can’t discern a good reason for objecting to a president criticizing a judge. I didn’t like it when President Obama, in his State of the Union address, criticized a majority of Supreme Court Justices for their decision in Citizens United. But that was because of the time and place of the criticism. And I did not believe that even criticizing judges during the SOTU constituted any sort of threat to the judiciary or our system of government. It was just bad form.
U.S. District Court judge Paul Friedman says that Trump “seems to view the courts and the justice system as obstacles to be attacked and undermined, not as a coequal branch to be respected even when he disagrees with its decisions.” But Trump gives courts the respect they deserve when the administration complies, as it invariably has, with court decisions.
Moreover, criticizing a branch of government or its members is not the same thing as viewing it as less than coequal. The executive and legislative branches are coequal and they attack each other all the time.
To exempt the judiciary branch from criticism would be to signal that it is greater than, not coequal to, the other branches. It would reinforce the view that judges are our “robed masters.”
What about the more specific criticism of Trump that he shouldn’t be attacking the judge who is about to sentence his former associate, Roger Stone? I see no reason to believe that the judge in question, hard core liberal Amy Berman Jackson, will be influenced one way or another by Trump’s pronouncements. I certainly see no reason to think she will be influenced in favor of leniency. This judge isn’t looking for a promotion from Trump.
Federal judges have life tenure to protect them against retaliation by the executive and (except in extraordinary circumstances) the legislature. This should be enough to prevent them from being swayed by criticism from the president.
So again, I just don’t see a legitimate basis for the hand-wringing about Trump’s criticism of judges. It strikes me as just another weak anti-Trump talking point.