Power-hungry American presidents inevitably come into conflict with the judicial branch of the U.S. government.
President Franklin Roosevelt, for example, grew so aggravated after watching his New Deal agenda lose repeatedly at the Supreme Court (including several 9-0 defeats), that he tried in 1937 to give himself the power to pack the Court with as many as six new justices who were ready and willing to side with his administration in future cases. Thankfully, FDR's blatant attempt to interfere with a co-equal branch of government failed miserably.
What form will President Donald Trump's inevitable clash with the courts take? We are getting some indication. On Friday Judge James Robart of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle, a George W. Bush appointee, issued a temporary nationwide restraining order that blocks the U.S. government from enforcing President Trump's executive action banning immigrant and nonimmigrant travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries.
Robart's order came in response to a legal challenge filed by the state of Washington against Trump's travel ban. "The Executive Order has both the intent and effect of discriminating based on national origin and religion, in violation of the Constitution," the state argues. "While preventing terrorist attacks is an important goal, the order does nothing to further that purpose by denying admission to children fleeing Syria's civil war, to refugees who valiantly assisted the U.S. military in Iraq, or to law-abiding high-tech workers who have lived in Washington for years."
According to the state, to allow Trump's executive order to go into effect while this legal challenge is proceeding would cause irreparable harm to lawful permanent residents, to businesses, and to families in Washington. The state also maintains that it is likely to prevail on the merits of its case. Judge Robart agreed. It now falls to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to give full consideration to whether or not Judge Robart's order should remain standing.
In response to this preliminary victory for Washington state, President Trump lashed out on Twitter. "The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!" Trump declared. A day later, Trump tweeted this: "Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!"
Back in April 2012, most conservatives were outraged when President Barack Obama saw fit to give a press conference in which he lectured the Supreme Court about why it would be "judicial activism" for the Court to strike down Obamacare on constitutional grounds. Those conservatives were right to be outraged. The Supreme Court was then in the midst of its Obamacare deliberations and the president was clearly trying to influence the outcome of the case by throwing some executive weight around.
The same conservatives who were outraged by Obama's actions then should be outraged by Trump's actions now. Trump, just like Obama before him, is seeking to undermine the independence of the judicial branch because it threatens to rule against him. Judge Robart is not a "so-called judge." He was duly nominated by a U.S. president and duly confirmed by a Senate vote of 99-0. Trump may not like it, but as president he is constitutionally bound to obey federal court orders.
It remains to be seen how Trump will react when he loses in higher court.