Donald Trump’s smear campaign against a federal judge has so troubled the legal community that even the conservative lawyer who authored the George W. Bush administration’s so-called “torture memos” said the presumptive GOP nominee’s behavior is “disturbing.”
“The only two other presidents I can think of who were so hostile to judges on an individual level and to the judiciary as a whole would be Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Roosevelt,” John Yoo, who served in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the George W. Bush administration, told the New York Times. He added that those two presidents only challenged the judicial branch in a broad sense.
“[T]hey weren’t doing it because they had cases before those judges as individuals,” Yoo said.
Trump, meanwhile, has said that U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel — the judge president over two lawsuits against his Trump University — is a “Mexican” whose decisions in the case “has to do with I’m very, very strong on the border.”
(Curiel was born in the United States.)
“[Presidents Jefferson and Roosevelt] had legitimate separation-of-powers fights between the presidency and the judiciary,” Yoo said. “Trump is lashing out because he has a lawsuit in a private capacity, which is much more disturbing.”
Other conservative scholars interviewed by the Times said they were alarmed by Trump’s anti-Curiel tirades, as well as his attitude toward the judiciary branch more generally.
“This is how authoritarianism starts, with a president who does not respect the judiciary,” David Post — a former law professor and writer for the conservative-leaning Washington Post blog the Volokh Conspiracy — told the Times, in reference to Trump’s comments about the judge. “You can criticize the judicial system, you can criticize individual cases, you can criticize individual judges. But the president has to be clear that the law is the law and that he enforces the law. That is his constitutional obligation.”