In His Own Words: The President's Attacks on the Courts

Donald Trump has displayed a troubling pattern of attacking judges and the courts for rulings he disagrees with.

April 28, 2017

Donald Trump has displayed a troubling pattern of attacking judges and the courts for rulings he disagrees with — a pattern that began during his presidential campaign (and even before), and has continued into his presidency.

This threatens our entire system of government. The courts are bulwarks of our Constitution and laws, and they depend on the public to respect their judgments and on officials to obey and enforce their decisions. Fear of personal attacks, public backlash, or enforcement failures should not color judicial decision-making, and public officials have a responsibility to respect courts and judicial decisions. Separation of powers is not a threat to democracy; it is the essence of democracy.

Collected below are examples of Trump’s public statements attacking individual judges and questioning the constitutional authority of the judiciary, including his statements on Twitter. It will be updated with new statements.

Attacks on Courts for Blocking Sanctuary City Executive Order

On Tuesday, April 25, California U.S. District Judge William Orrick III granted a preliminary injunction, blocking the implementation of Donald Trump’s executive order withholding federal funds from “sanctuary cities”—those that limit how they cooperate with the federal government to deport immigrants lacking legal status.

Following the ruling, Trump made a series of tweets criticizing the courts and Judge Orrick. Although Trump’s comments referenced the Ninth Circuit, it was the U.S. District Court, which sits within the Ninth Circuit, that issued the relevant order.

The White House also issued a statement, saying “the rule of law suffered another blow, as an unelected judge unilaterally rewrote immigration policy for our Nation.” It continued: “This San Francisco judge’s erroneous ruling is a gift to the criminal gang and cartel element in our country, empowering the worst kind of human trafficking and sex trafficking, and putting thousands of innocent lives at risk.” Finally, it closed by calling the decision “yet one more example of egregious overreach by a single, unelected district judge.”

On April 26, Trump gave an interview in which he said he has “absolutely” thought about breaking up the Ninth Circuit. He continued: “Everybody immediately runs to the 9th Circuit. And we have a big country. We have lots of other locations. But they immediately run to the 9th Circuit. Because they know that’s like, semi-automatic.” He also said: “You see judge shopping, or what’s gone on with these people, they immediately run to the 9th Circuit," and that “what’s going on in the 9th Circuit is a shame."

Attacks on Courts, and Judges Personally, for Staying Immigration Executive Orders

On Friday, February 3, 2017, Washington U.S. District Court Judge James Robart issued a decision temporarily staying enforcement of Donald Trump’s January 27 executive order limiting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries and halting the admission of refugees from anywhere. On February 9, the Ninth Circuit denied the government's request for a stay of the district court's order. Trump issued a revised version of the immigration executive order on March 6, 2017, which narrowed the scope to six countries and exempted green card and visa holders, among other changes. On March 15, 2017, a federal judge in Hawaii temporarily blocked enforcement of the order nationwide, followed by a March 16 order by a federal judge in Maryland.

Trump has made a series of tweets and public statements attacking the deciding judges personally, questioning the authority of federal courts to review his orders, suggesting the court is biased, and suggesting that the judges and court system would be to blame for future terrorist attacks.

Comments Concerning March 6 Executive Order

"We're also taking decisive action to improve our vetting procedures. The courts are not helping us I have to be honest. It's ridiculous. Somebody said I should not criticize judges, Okay, I'll criticize judges. To keep criminals and terrorists the hell out of our country, we are keeping these promises and many, many more."

“Moments ago I learned that a district court in Hawaii, part of the much overturned Ninth Circuit Court. And I have to be nice, otherwise I’ll be criticized for speaking poorly about our courts. I’ll be criticized by these people, among the most dishonest people in the world,…for speaking harshly about our courts. I could never want to do that.”

“This is an unprecedented judicial overreach. The law and constitution allows the president to suspend immigration when he or she...fortunately it won’t be Hillary she, when he or she deems it to be in the national interest of our country.”

“I know you aren’t skeptical people. You don’t think this was done by a judge for political reasons do you? This ruling makes us look weak, which we no longer are, believe me.”

“We are going to fight this terrible ruling…we’re going to win…we’re going to keep our citizens safe.”

“People are screaming break-up the Ninth Circuit…that Ninth Circuit, you have to see, take a look at how many times they have been overturned with their terrible decisions. Take a look. And this is what we have to live with.”

Comments Concerning January 27 Executive Order

"I don't ever want to call a court biased, so I won't call it biased...But courts seem to be so political."

 

Calls for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg’s Resignation

During the 2016 presidential campaign, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made comments calling Donald Trump, then the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, “a faker” and stating “I can’t imagine what the country would be – with Donald Trump as our president.” Donald Trump responded in a series of tweets describing Justice Ginsburg as an “incompetent judge” and calling for her resignation.

Accusations that U.S. District Court Judge Curiel Is Biased

In response to U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo O. Curiel’s orders in a class action lawsuit against Trump University, then-presidential candidate Trump made a number of statements attacking Judge Curiel as biased because of his “Mexican heritage” and appointment by a Democratic president. 

Donald Trump said on CNN: “I’ve been treated very unfairly by this judge. Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage, I’m building a wall!” Trump continued: “He’s a member of a society where – you know – very pro-Mexico and that’s fine, it’s all fine, but I think – I think – he should recuse himself.”

Trump’s Rhetoric About Courts Prior to Running for President

Donald Trump’s tweets prior to announcing his presidential candidacy display similar rhetoric targeting individual judges and the judiciary. Select examples are provided below.