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Trump and US Chief Justice engaged in unprecedented war of words

John Roberts’ criticism is the first time the Republican-appointed leader of the federal judiciary has pushed back against Trump.

US President Donald Trump speaking to reporters outside the White House yesterday.
US President Donald Trump speaking to reporters outside the White House yesterday.
Image: Ting Shen/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

US PRESIDENT DONALD Trump and Chief Justice John Roberts are engaged in an extraordinary public back-and-forth over Trump’s description of a judge who ruled against his migrant and asylum policy as an “Obama judge”.

Roberts criticism is the first time the Republican-appointed leader of the federal judiciary has pushed back against Trump, who has previously blasted federal judges who ruled against him.

Roberts today the US doesn’t have “Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges”. He commented in a statement released by the Supreme Court after a query by the Associated Press.

Roberts said an “independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for”.

“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,” Trump tweeted in response. 

Last year, the president used the term a “so-called judge” after the first federal ruling against his travel ban. During the presidential campaign, Trump criticised Roberts himself for the chief justice’s decisive vote in 2012 to preserve the Obama healthcare overhaul.

Trump also referred to a judge who was presiding over a fraud lawsuit against Trump University as a Mexican who would be unable to rule fairly because of Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the US-Mexican border.

Supreme Court 

The president’s latest remarks come as the Supreme Court is enmeshed in controversy over his appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Several justices have spoken out about judicial independence and the danger of having the court viewed as a political institution that is divided between five conservative Republicans and four liberal Democrats.

Roberts is widely seen as the justice closest to the middle and likely to determine the outcome of high-profile cases that split the court.

Trump made his comments yesterday when a reporter asked for his reaction to a ruling by US District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco that put the administration’s asylum policy on hold.

The president complained that his opponents file lawsuits in courts that are part of the liberal-leaning 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Before he took office, conservative groups tended to bring challenges to Obama-era policies in Texas, part of the conservative-leaning 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Every case that gets filed in the 9th Circuit, we get beaten. And then we end up having to go to the Supreme Court, like the travel ban, and we won,” Trump said.

The president went on to say about the asylum ruling:

This was an Obama judge. And I’ll tell you what, it’s not going to happen like this anymore. 

But the initial travel ban ruling in 2017 was issued by US District Judge James Robart, an appointee of President George W Bush. Roberts also was appointed by Bush.

It was unclear what Trump meant when he said things would change. The 9th Circuit is by far the largest of the federal appellate courts, covering Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Some Republicans in 9th Circuit states have proposed splitting the circuit in two, but legislation has not advanced.

The court has long had a majority of judges appointed by Democratic presidents, with the current breakdown at 16-7. But Trump has the opportunity to narrow that edge significantly because there are six vacancies, and he already has nominated candidates for five of them.

About the author:

Associated Press

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