Congressman Nadler Offers Oversight Amendment to Include Investigation of Executive Branch Conduct Related to Federal Judiciary

Feb 15, 2017 Issues: Civil Liberties, Civil Rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), senior Member of the House Judiciary Committee and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, offered an amendment to the Committee’s oversight plan that calls on the Committee to, “investigate any attempt by the White House or any agency of the Executive Branch to threaten or discredit any federal judge or to undermine the independence of the federal judiciary.”

Below is Rep. Nadler’s full statement, as prepared, during markup of the House Judiciary Committee Oversight Plan:

“Mr. Chairman, I have an amendment at the desk.

“Mr. Chairman, my amendment would call on this Committee to investigate any attempt by the White House, or any agency of the Executive Branch, to threaten or discredit any federal judge, or to undermine the independence of the federal judiciary.

“It is, frankly, disturbing that such an amendment is necessary.  But after President Trump’s unprecedented and dangerous campaign to threaten and delegitimize the judiciary, and any judge who would dare to enforce limits on his power, it must, sadly, be a top priority for this Committee.

“As most people are aware, after Judge James Robart, a highly respected federal judge in Washington State, temporarily blocked enforcement of President Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim ban, 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”.

“No.  It is not.  But the President seems to be trying hard to break it.

“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. 

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time Mr. Trump has attacked a sitting judge.  Last June, then-candidate Trump impugned the motives of Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who presided over litigation related to claims of fraud at Trump University, by declaring that Judge Curiel was a “total disgrace” who had “an absolute conflict” because of his Mexican heritage.  Although Mr. Trump was broadly condemned for the racist overtones of his remarks, the impropriety of a political candidate challenging the integrity of a judge considering his fortunes was not fully appreciated at the time.  Unfortunately, any hope that Mr. Trump would act more responsibly once he became President has now been dashed.

“This is a pattern we must halt right now.  As a real estate developer, it may have proven effective for Mr. Trump to intimidate his adversaries through insults.  But, as President, he must learn that such attacks are both reckless and dangerous.  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 in the Constitution.  It is essential to maintaining liberty and the rule of law, and it is what former Chief Justice Rehnquist once called, “one of the crown jewels of our system of government.”  Whether or not one agrees with the substance of a particular judicial decision, it is dangerous for sitting presidents, or other government officials, to engage in ad hominem attacks against a judge, or to attempt to erode trust in that judge, or in the entire court system.

“President Trump’s incendiary comments have raised alarms from such diverse parties as the President of the American Bar Association, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and legal scholars from across the ideological spectrum.   Even Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, condemned these remarks as “demoralizing” and “disheartening.”  However, under Republican Leadership, this Committee—the Judiciary Committee—has been silent.

“It is important that we add our voice to the chorus of condemnation, and that we investigate this issue.  An independent judiciary is fundamental to our constitutional system of checks and balances, created by the founders to protect all of our rights and liberties.  The Judiciary Committee should take action, without delay, to ensure that the careful separation of powers that is so critical to our democracy is respected by the leader of the Executive Branch.

“I urge my colleagues to support this amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.”