EDITORIAL: The separation of powers at work

Donald Trump has a history of expressing his displeasure with federal judges who take a dim view of various administration policies. The president’s latest salvo even earned a retort from the highest jurist in the land.

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

Chief Justice Roberts was responding to a presidential tweet in the aftermath of a ruling from U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar that temporarily barred the Trump administration from demanding that asylum applications be made at ports of entry. Mr. Trump derided Judge Tigar as “an Obama judge” and proceeded to lambaste the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which would handle the appeal.

Many on the left have criticized the president for his shots at the judiciary. Fine. It’s hardly going out on a limb to argue that Mr. Trump’s hyperbole and social media obsession are often less than presidential. But let’s remember that most of those same detractors applauded in 2010 when Barack Obama took an unprecedented swipe at the Supreme Court during his State of the Union address.

In fact, many presidents have taken issue with the Supreme Court. Franklin Roosevelt even tried to pack the court by floating a scheme to expand the number of justices after the majority blocked a handful of his New Deal initiatives.

Such frustration is common, given the Constitution ensures that both the judiciary and Congress provide a healthy check on executive power. What we are witnessing is the separation of powers at work.

As for the chief justice, his response is an understandable exercise in defending the integrity of the judicial branch. No doubt the great majority of federal judges do their utmost to ensure those appearing before them are treated fairly and with respect. But to imply that a judge’s political philosophy has no bearing on how he or she will interpret a vast array of complicated and often impenetrable federal statutes is to occupy Fantasyland.

Yes, it’s sometimes difficult to predict how a judge will evolve on the federal bench. But just as Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Donald Trump and Bill Clinton may have different viewpoints on a host of constitutional issues, the same is certainly true for the men and women — the “Obama judges,” “Trump judges” and the like — they nominated to fill seats on the federal judiciary.

And there’s nothing wrong with that — as long as philosophy doesn’t trump (pun intended) the law and the Constitution.

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