Congressman Nadler Calls Trump’s Attacks on Judiciary and Threats to Judicial Independence “Unprecedented and Dangerous”

Feb 14, 2017 Issues: Civil Liberties, Civil Rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, condemned President Trump’s recent conduct, including his ad hominem attacks on judges, his dangerous rhetoric aimed at judicial independence, and attempts to undermine public confidence in the courts system more generally, during the oversight hearing on judicial transparency and ethics. 

“President Trump’s broadsides against the federal courts threaten to undermine public confidence in the institution of the judiciary itself,” said Congressman Nadler.  “I am disturbed that the President either does not appreciate the role that an independent judiciary plays in our constitutional system, or does appreciate it and seeks to undermine it.  I hope that my Republican colleagues, especially on this Committee, will join me in demanding that the President cease these attacks on the judiciary immediately.”

A full copy of Rep. Nadler’s prepared remarks from the Judicial Transparency and Ethics oversight hearing is provided below.

“Mr. Chairman, the Federal Judiciary is the envy of the world.  Dedicated to upholding the rule of law, our court system provides a forum for private parties to resolve their disputes peacefully, and enables society to punish those who violate the law.  It also safeguards our treasured liberties, and ensures that the government stays within constitutional boundaries.

“Unfortunately, however, the judiciary is under a sustained attack right now, and it is coming from one of the most unlikely of places – the Oval Office.  That’s right, the President of the United States, whose unconstitutional Muslim ban has been rightly thwarted by the courts, has launched an unprecedented and dangerous campaign to threaten, and attempt to delegitimize, the judiciary, and any judge that would dare enforce limits on his powers.

“It is not uncommon for presidents of both parties to speak out against court decisions with which they disagree.  But never before have we seen such a brazen attempt by a president to erode public confidence in the courts as fair and neutral arbiters of the law.  As most people are aware, after Judge James Robart temporarily blocked enforcement of President Trump’s immigration Executive Order, the President took to Twitter to label him a “so-called judge.”  This was followed by several other tweets that attacked Judge Robart personally, called his decision political, and even claimed that if something happened to the United States, the judge and the court system should be blamed.

“Next, the President turned his target to the Ninth Circuit judges considering the appeal of Judge Robart’s Order.  In a speech the morning after the court’s hearing, but before its ruling, Mr. Trump called the proceedings “disgraceful” and “so political,” while also claiming that the judges failed to grasp concepts that even “a bad high school student would understand.”

“Then, after the Ninth Circuit left Judge Robart’s order in place, one of President Trump’s top advisers, Stephen Miller, said, “The judiciary is not supreme” and challenged the court’s legitimacy to question the president’s interpretation of the law.  Finally, the President summed up his thoughts on Twitter this weekend, writing, “Our legal system is broken”.

“I beg to differ.  I think that our court system worked exactly as it is supposed to.  As chaos and confusion reigned at our nation’s airports, the courts stepped in to clarify that no one is above the law, and that the Constitution still provides certain fundamental protections.

“Although the drama surrounding President Trump’s Executive Order has been temporarily set aside, we must not become complacent in the face of such attacks on the integrity and legitimacy of individual judges, or of the court system generally.  Especially when they come from the President of the United States, such attacks are both inappropriate and reckless.  Already, there have been reports that judges involved in legal challenges to the Executive Order have been threatened, and require increased security protection.

“Moreover, President Trump’s broadsides against the federal courts threaten to undermine public confidence in the institution of the judiciary itself.  An independent judiciary is fundamental to the checks and balances that are embodied in the separation of powers, and is essential to maintaining liberty and the rule of law.  I am disturbed that the President either does not appreciate the role that an independent judiciary plays in our constitutional system, or does appreciate it and seeks to undermine it.  I hope that my Republican colleagues, especially on this Committee, will join me in demanding that the President cease these attacks on the judiciary immediately.

“My deep respect for the judiciary does not mean that there are no improvements that we can make to the court system, however, particularly when it comes to transparency.  This includes stronger ethics and disclosure requirements, particularly with respect to the Supreme Court, which is not bound by the Code of Ethics that applies to other federal judges.

“Another important transparency measure would be televising judicial proceedings, at least in the appellate courts.  I know that the Judicial Conference has undertaken a pilot project to bring cameras to the courtroom, but I think it is time to expand this across the federal appellate courts.  I recognize that there are privacy concerns when it comes to trial court proceedings, but there is no reason to shield appellate courts from public view.

“Public scrutiny of government proceedings, and an informed citizenry, is essential to democracy.  But, most courts are closed to cameras, effectively putting them off-limits to the public at large.  Transcripts and audio recordings, some of which are made available days, or in some cases even weeks, later, are poor substitutes for the immediate visual experience.

“That is why, yesterday, I re-introduced the bipartisan “Eyes on the Courts Act.”  This legislation would finally bring important cases into public view, by requiring that cameras be allowed in all Supreme Court and federal appellate court proceedings.

“I do not share the concerns of those who believe that the highly trained lawyers and judges in appellate court proceedings, tackling some of the most important issues facing our country, will start playing to the cameras.  Nor am I aware of any such problems occurring in those federal courts where cameras have been used.

“The nation was riveted by the live audio stream of the Ninth Circuit’s consideration of the President’s Executive Order last week.  Clearly, there is great interest in wider access to court proceedings, and I see no reason the public should be prevented from witnessing the other important cases considered in the federal courts.  I respect the difficult and important job that the federal judiciary performs.  If my bill becomes law, the public will have an opportunity to watch them in action, and to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of their critical work.

“I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on this issue, and other important topics affecting the federal judiciary, and I yield back the balance of my time.”

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