U.S. Supreme Court

Chief Justice Roberts defends judicial independence after Trump's 'Obama judge' criticism

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Chief Justice John Roberts

Chief Justice John Roberts.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. defended the independence of the judiciary after President Donald Trump criticized an "Obama judge" who ruled against him in an asylum case.

Roberts commented in a statement on Wednesday, report the Associated Press, Politico and the Washington Post.

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

According to AP, it’s the first time Roberts has “offered even a hint of criticism of Trump.”

The Washington Post, Fox News and the Hill had coverage of Trump’s comments about U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar, the San Francisco federal judge who issued a temporary restraining order blocking the administration’s attempt to restrict asylum claims.

“This was an Obama judge and I’ll tell you what, it’s not going to happen like this anymore,” Trump said on Tuesday as he criticized Tigar and the court that would hear an appeal, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Trump said the 9th Circuit is unfriendly to his position. “It’s a disgrace,” Trump said, “and I’m going to put in a major complaint. Because you cannot win, if you’re us, a case in the 9th Circuit.”

“Everybody that wants to sue the United States—almost—they file their case in the 9th Circuit, and it means an automatic loss,” Trump continued. “No matter what you do, no matter how good your case is. And the 9th Circuit is really something we have to take a look at, because it’s not fair.”

Tigar ruled on Monday that Trump could not rewrite immigration laws that allow all immigrants to assert asylum claims. Tigar barred enforcement of an interim rule change that prohibited asylum claims by immigrants who cross the Southern border outside a port of entry.

ABA President Bob Carlson agreed with Roberts in a statement released on Wednesday.

“Disagreeing with a court’s decision is everyone’s right, but when government officials question a court’s motives, mock its legitimacy or threaten retaliation due to an unfavorable ruling, they intend to erode the court’s standing and hinder the courts from performing their constitutional duties,” Carlson said.

“As we celebrate this Thanksgiving holiday, let us all count our blessings as Americans—free speech; free press; an independent, impartial judiciary; and the ability of every person in our country to stand up and speak out in favor of the rule of law.”

In two tweets on Wednesday afternoon after Roberts made his statement, Trump wrote: “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. It would be great if the 9th Circuit was indeed an ‘independent judiciary,’ but if it is why …are so many opposing view (on Border and Safety) cases filed there, and why are a vast number of those cases overturned. Please study the numbers, they are shocking. We need protection and security - these rulings are making our country unsafe! Very dangerous and unwise!”

The 9th Circuit has jurisdiction over six states that border either Canada or Mexico, and historically has not had the highest rate of judgments overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, according to SCOTUSblog, the Washington Post and a 2010 paper in the ABA’s Landslide magazine.

Updated at 2:10 p.m. to add Carlson’s statement, and at 3:35 p.m. to add Trump’s response.

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