Trump steps up attack on judge over travel ban
US President said Americans should blame US District Judge James Robart and the court system if anything happened
President Donald Trump on Sunday ramped up his criticism of a federal judge who blocked a travel ban on seven mainly Muslim nations and said courts were making US border security harder, intensifying the first major legal battle of his presidency.
In a series of tweets that broadened his attack on the country’s judiciary, Trump said Americans should blame US District Judge James Robart and the court system if anything happened. Trump did not elaborate on what threats the country potentially faced. He added that he had told the Department of Homeland Security to “check people coming into our country VERY CAREFULLY. The courts are making the job very difficult!”
The Republican president labeled Robart a “so-called judge” on Saturday, a day after the Seattle jurist issued a temporary restraining order that prevented enforcement of a 90-day ban on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and a 120-day bar on all refugees.
A US appeals court later on Saturday denied the government’s request for an immediate stay of the ruling. Vice President Mike Pence defended Trump earlier on Sunday, even as some Republicans encouraged the businessman-turned-politician to tone down his broadsides against the judicial branch of government.
“The president of the United States has every right to criticize the other two branches of government,” Pence said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. It is unusual for a sitting president to attack a member of the judiciary, which the US Constitution designates as a check on the power of the executive branch and Congress.
US Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Trump seems intent on precipitating a constitutional crisis. Some Republicans also expressed discomfort with the situation. “I think it is best not to single out judges for criticism,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “We all get disappointed from time to time at the outcome in courts on things that we care about. But I think it is best to avoid criticizing judges individually.”
Republican Senator Ben Sasse, a vocal critic of Trump, was less restrained. “We don’t have so-called judges ... we don’t have so-called presidents, we have people from three different branches of government who take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution,” he said on the ABC News program “This Week.”
The ruling by Robart, appointed by former Republican President George W. Bush, coupled with the decision by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to deny the government’s request for an immediate stay of the ruling dealt a blow to Trump barely two weeks into his presidency.
It could also be the precursor to months of legal challenges to his push to clamp down on immigration, including through the construction of a wall on the US-Mexican border, and complicate the confirmation battle of his US Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.
The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, said on Saturday that Gorsuch, a conservative federal appeals court judge from Colorado, must meet a higher bar to show his independence from the president. The legal limbo will prevail at least until the federal appeals court rules on the government’s application for an emergency stay of Robart’s ruling.
The court was awaiting further submissions from the states of Washington and Minnesota on Sunday, and from the federal government on Monday. The final filing was due at 5 p.m. PST on Monday (0100 GMT on Tuesday). The uncertainty has created what may be a short-lived opportunity for travelers from the seven affected countries as well as refugees to get into the United States.
Fact and fiction
Trump’s Jan. 27 travel restrictions have drawn protests in the United States, provoked criticism from US allies and created chaos for thousands of people who have, in some cases, spent years seeking asylum. Reacting to the latest court ruling, Iraqi government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said: “It is a move in the right direction to solve the problems that it caused.”
In his ruling on Friday, Robart questioned the use of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States as a justification for the ban, saying no attacks had been carried out on US soil by individuals from the seven affected countries since then. For Trump’s order to be constitutional, Robart said, it had to be “based in fact, as opposed to fiction”.
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