Tag Archives: federal judiciary

‘Fine-tuned machine’ needs a serious lube job

The president of the United States has described his administration as functioning like a “fine-tuned machine.”

Such a description implies a thorough vetting of those seeking high-level government appointments, yes? Sure it does.

Why, then, did a Donald Trump nominee for the federal bench fail to report something that poses a potential conflict of interest? You know, that he is married to a senior White House lawyer.

Brett Talley failed to disclose that he is married to Ann Donaldson. Talley wants to be a federal judge; Donaldson works for an organization — the White House — that could face a challenge and appear in the very court where Talley presides.

Mr. President, we have a problem

Doggone it, man. Isn’t that a problem? What’s more, why didn’t Donaldson step forward and inform the White House judge-search team that there might be a problem with her hubby being seated on the federal bench?

And there’s an interesting back story, too. Talley wants an appointment to a judgeship that serves a district in Alabama, which is being tossed and roiled at this very moment by a scandal involving Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate who’s being accused of making improper sexual advances on underage girls.

Aw, what the heck. I digress … you know?

Talley also has never tried a case. His legal experience is quite limited and one can question whether he actually is qualified to preside as a federal judge.

Is this how the president finds the “best people” to serve the federal government? Is this how a “fine-tuned machine” operates?

Umm. No.

Stunning profile may emerge on local judicial bench

The Texas Panhandle received excellent federal judicial service for nearly four decades, thanks to the steady hand provided by U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson.

She is stepping aside. A new president has nominated a replacement for Judge Robinson. But some potentially chilling information is coming forth about the new guy.

The Texas Tribune is reporting on statements made by another judicial nominee who is linked to the man Donald Trump has selected for the Northern District of Texas federal bench. Jeff Mateer formerly served as general counsel for a right-wing advocacy group, the First Liberty Institute; Matthew Kaczmaryk — Trump’s choice to succeed Robinson — is deputy general counsel for the same group. Mateer now works in the Texas attorney general’s office. Follow me for a moment.

Mateer is Trump’s pick for another federal judgeship. He reportedly believes transgender children are part of “Satan’s work.”

In a 2015 speech, Mateer said this, according to the Texas Tribune Texas Tribune, about the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage in the United States: “I mean, it’s disgusting,” he said. “I’ve learned words I didn’t know. There are people who marry themselves. Somebody wanted to marry a tree. People marrying their pets. It’s just like — you know, you read the New Testament and you read about all the things and you think, ‘Oh, that’s not going on in our community.’ Oh yes it is. We’re going back to that time where debauchery rules.”

There you have it: Same-sex marriage equals “debauchery,” according to Mateer. The nation’s highest court ruled that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that all Americans are entitled to “equal protection under the law,” meaning that gay Americans have a constitutional right to marry people of the same gender.

My question is whether Kaczmaryk is cut from the same mold as Mateer, given that they both work for the same ultra-right wing advocacy group.

Is this the kind of justice we can expect from the federal bench in Amarillo? Please say it won’t be so.

‘Law and order’ boast gets doused by pardon

Donald Trump promised to be “the law-and-order president,” which harkened back to the call issued in the late 1960s by Richard Nixon’s campaign for the presidency.

The way I see it, though, Trump’s pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio douses the president’s law-and-order pledge bigly.

Arpaio once served as sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz. He made a big name for himself by his tough policies on illegal immigration. He would racially profile individuals he assumed were entering the country illegally; he would detain them, often in brutal conditions.

A federal judge ordered Arpaio to cease that round-up policy. He refused. The judge put him on trial. The sheriff was convicted. Oh, and then he lost his re-election bid along the way.

How does this comport with the president’s pledge to be the law-and-order guy? It doesn’t.

The president stuck his thumb in the eye of the federal judicial system. He, in effect, said the rule of law doesn’t apply. The pardon clearly is within the president’s realm of power. Some arguing that the pardon might be illegal; I won’t go there.

A pardon’s legality doesn’t necessarily make it right. In this case, it pulls precisely against the pledge the president made to emphasize law and order.

By flouting the rule of law, therefore, the president has declared war as well on any semblance of order.

Don’t pardon ‘Sheriff Joe,’ Mr. President

Donald John Trump Sr. offered a titillating morsel for those among his political base to chew on.

He spoke Tuesday at a campaign rally in Phoenix and said former Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio is “going to be just fine.” The implication is that Trump might issue a presidential pardon for “Sheriff Joe.” 

Arpaio has been convicted of ignoring a court order that demanded he stop conducting an “immigration roundup” that sought to locate illegal immigrants sneaking into the United States.

I hope the president forgoes a pardon for Arpaio. A friend of mine who happens to be a former prosecutor in Amarillo said this regarding a potential pardon for the fiery former sheriff:

“A pardon for a criminal conviction is supposed to take into account some equitable or humanitarian reason to remove the conviction. A pardon for someone who knowingly violated a federal court order and is being held in contempt is in my view worse. It sends a message that the judiciary is not to be honored. A dangerous precedent, and a slap in the face to the alleged sheriff’s victims.”

Amen to that.

Then again, the president has demonstrated already a penchant for dishonoring the judiciary … such as when he questioned whether a federal judge could adjudicate a case involving Trump University “because he’s a Mexican”; the judge, by the way, was born in Indiana to Mexican-American parents. Or when he referred to a “so-called judge” who struck down Trump’s ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Trump said Arpaio was convicted of “doing his job.” The crowd in Phoenix roared.

Actually, Mr. President, “Sheriff Joe” was convicted of ignoring what a judge told him to do. We are, after all, a nation of laws.

Isn’t that right?

Get set to watch further politicization of federal judiciary

Now there are “reports” that Anthony Kennedy is considering an end to his judicial career.

The Supreme Court associate justice’s retirement, if it comes next week as some are thinking it might, is going to produce something I suspect the nation’s founders didn’t anticipate when they wrote the U.S. Constitution.

That would be the extreme politicization of the judicial selection process.

Those silly men. Sure, they were smart. They weren’t clairvoyant.

The present-day reality is that the process has become highly political. When did politics play such a key role in selecting these jurists? It’s hard to pinpoint the start of it all. Some might suggest it began with President Reagan’s appointment in 1987 of Robert Bork to succeed Lewis Powell, who had retired. The Senate would reject Bork largely on the basis of his vast record of ultraconservative writings and legal opinions.

Clarence Thomas’s nomination in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush also produced plenty of fireworks, owing to the testimony of Anita Hill, who accused Thomas of sexual harassment and assorted acts of impropriety.

On and one it has gone, through Democratic and Republican administrations ever since.

The founders wrote a provision into the Constitution that allows federal judges to get lifetime appointments. The idea was to remove politics from their legal writings. Indeed, some judges have taken seats on the U.S. Supreme Court with their presidential benefactors expecting them to toe a philosophical line, only to be disappointed when they veer along uncharted judicial trails.

It’s too early to tell whether Justice Neil Gorsuch will fall into that pattern. He was Donald J. Trump’s initial pick for the high court. The president might get to make another appointment quite soon. Then again, maybe not.

Whenever that moment arrives, you can take this to the bank: The next Supreme Court pick is going to ignite a whopper of a political fight if one side of the Senate sees a dramatic shift in the court’s ideological balance.

Something tells me the founders might not have anticipated these judicial nominations would come to this.

More ‘so-called judges’ deal blow to travel ban

Donald J. Trump stepped into a serious political minefield when he labeled a federal jurist who disagreed with his ban on Muslims entering this country a “so-called judge.”

Mr. President, here’s a flash. More of those “so-called” judges have joined in rejecting your revised travel ban.

http://thehill.com/regulation/335359-trump-travel-ban-on-shaky-ground

The latest rejection comes from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Virginia. The court ruled that the president’s second travel ban is as discriminatory against a certain religion as the first ban. The judges scolded him, too, for seeking to pursue a policy they deem to be unconstitutional.

It doesn’t look good for Trump’s effort to ban entry into this country to those who practice a certain religious faith. The 9th Court of Appeals is set to hear another case that was struck down by a federal judge in Hawaii; the 9th Court had rejected the first ban initially.

The case is likely to end up in the U.S. Supreme Court’s lap. Indeed, the nine men and women on the nation’s highest court well might decide against even hearing the case, which would let the lower-court rulings stand.

We are witnessing from the front row an exercise in the checks-and-balances that the nation’s founders intended in the 18th century when they drafted the U.S. Constitution.

They did well. Don’t you think?

‘I, alone … ‘ should have been given us a clue

Donald J. Trump’s time as president has lasted all of about 122 days — give or take — yet it seems like forever already.

As I look back on this man’s stunning political ascent, I am struck by one moment that I believe in hindsight should have given us a clue on what we might expect.

He stood before the Republican National Convention this past summer in Cleveland and declared that “I, alone” can repair all the things he said are ailing the country.

Setting aside for a moment or two the myriad problems that are bedeviling this man and his administration — and which might cost him his office — that particular statement suggested to me at that moment that this fellow really doesn’t get it.

He doesn’t understand one of the principal tenets of governing, which is that he is participating in a team sport. It’s so critical to understand that notion at the federal level, where the founders established a triple-layered governmental system where one branch holds no more power than the other two.

The presidency is but one branch; it must work in tandem with the Congress. Waiting in the wings to ensure that the executive and legislative branches don’t violate the Constitution are the federal courts, comprising actual judges, not the “so-called” types who render decisions that might go against whatever the president wants to do.

Donald Trump ignores political decorum, custom and practice. As some have noted, he does so either out of ignorance or does so willfully. I’ll take Trump at his word that he is a “smart person,” which means he is invoking a willful disregard for how the federal government is supposed to work.

The concept of governing by oneself does not work. It cannot work. The president is getting a real-time civics lesson in how the nation’s founders established this government of ours. He has vowed to run the country like his business. Yeah, good luck with that.

A business mogul can fire people at will. He can order underlings around, make them do this or that task. He can threaten, bully and coerce others.

When he takes the reins of the executive branch of the federal government, all of that prior experience gets thrown out the window.

How does the president tell Congress — comprising 535 individuals with constituencies and power bases of their own — to do his bidding? And how does the president actually defy the federal judiciary, which the founders established to be an independent check on every single thing the president and Congress enact?

Yes, the Republican Party’s presidential nominee gave it all away when he stood there in Cleveland and bellowed “I, alone” can fix it.

No, Mr. President. You cannot. Nor should you have ever tried.

Moreover, I believe his repeated efforts to trample over Congress and the federal courts are going to bite him hard in the backside as he seeks to defend himself against the other troubles that are threatening him.

Break up the 9th U.S. Circuit? C’mon, get real

Donald J. Trump keeps ratcheting up his open combat with the federal judicial system.

The president wants to break up the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because — doggone it, anyway! — the judges keep issuing rulings with which he disagrees.

Poor guy. That’s how it goes sometimes, Mr. President.

The 9th Circuit has ruled against the president’s ban on refugees seeking entry into this country from majority-Muslim countries. That just won’t stand in Trump’s world. So his solution is to dismember the court, which is based in San Francisco and is considered to be arguably the most liberal appellate court in the federal judicial network.

He said lawyers shop for friendly judicial venues and the president believes the 9th Circuit is a favorite forum to hear cases pitting the federal government against anyone else.

Give me a break.

Conservative courts have ruled against liberal presidents. Indeed, liberal courts have ruled against conservative presidents as well. Have presidents of either stripe been so thin-skinned that they’ve sought to break up an appellate court? Not until this one took office.

Leave the court alone, Mr. President.

A better option for the president would be to craft laws that can withstand judicial challenge. Federal judges in Hawaii, Washington state and Maryland all have found sufficient fault with the Trump administration’s effort to ban refugees to rule against them. Appellate judges have upheld the lower court rulings.

In a strange way this kind of reminds me of when President Franklin Roosevelt sought to tinker with the federal judiciary by “packing” the U.S. Supreme Court with justices more to his liking; he sought to expand the number of justices on the nation’s highest court. He didn’t succeed — thank goodness.

To be sure, Trump isn’t the only recent president to bully the federal judiciary. Barack Obama called out the Supreme Court while delivering a State of the Union speech in 2010 over its Citizens United ruling that allowed unlimited political contributions by corporations. The president was wrong to do so — in that venue — with the justices sitting directly in front of him.

The nation’s founders sought to establish an independent federal judiciary that ostensibly should be immune from political pressure. The president is seeking to bully the court system through a number of methods: He calls out judges individually and criticizes the courts’ decisions openly and with extreme harshness.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals needs to remain intact and the president needs to live with the consequences of how it interprets the U.S. Constitution.

What has the president learned in 100 days?

Let’s turn away for a moment from what Donald Trump might have accomplished during his first 100 days as president to what he might have learned during that time.

The president’s list of accomplishments is pretty damn skimpy.

His learning curve, though, has been steep. I hope it’s beginning to flatten out.

What’s the most glaring eye-opener for the president? It’s that you cannot run the federal government the way you run a business.

At virtually every turn along the way since taking office, the president has been forced to swallow that bitter pill. A man who became used to getting his way because he demands it has learned that the federal government is structured — on purpose — to function on an entirely different set of dynamics.

The nation’s founders crafted a brilliant governing document. When you think about it, while the U.S. Constitution grants the president significant executive authority, it does not imbue the office with ultimate governing authority. The founders divvied up power among three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial.

It’s that darn legislative branch — the U.S. Congress — that has a say in what becomes law. Donald Trump’s business experience doesn’t mean squat to many of the 535 men and women who comprise both chambers of Congress. They, too, have their constituencies to which they must answer. Yes, the president represents the nation, but Congress — as a body — also represents the very same nation.

Can you govern the nation like a business? No. Never. Not a zillion years.

Trump needs to understand that governance is a team sport. He cannot threaten members of Congress if they resist his legislative proposals. He cannot exclude members of the “other” party from key negotiations. He must abandon the “I, alone” mantra — which he bellowed at the Republican National Convention this past summer — that threatens to haunt him for as long as he is president.

And then there’s the judicial branch. The federal judiciary comprises individuals who hold lifetime appointed jobs. Their mission is to ensure that laws do not violate the Constitution. The founders granted them independence from the executive and legislative government branches.

Those judges have the constitutional authority to knock down executive orders, or to put the brakes on laws enacted by Congress. They aren’t “so-called judges” whose status as “unelected” jurists doesn’t diminish their authority.

I hope the president has learned at least some elements of all this during his first 100 days. If he doesn’t, then we’re all going to be in for an extremely rough ride.

However, we’re all just spectators. The president will need to hold on with both hands if he has any chance of getting anything done during his time in office.

We are witnessing the consequence of electing someone with zero public service experience. Mr. President, the federal government bears no resemblance — none! — to the businesses you built.

No intention to lecture AG about the law, but really …

I am acutely aware that Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is an educated man.

He went to law school; passed the Alabama state bar; served as a federal prosecutor; tried to become a federal judge in the 1980s, but was rejected by the U.S. Senate because of some things he reportedly said about black people; then he was elected to the Senate.

He now serves as U.S. attorney general, thanks to an appointment by Donald John Trump.

There. Having stipulated all of that, I need to remind the attorney general that he should not disrespect the tenet of judicial review that the nation’s founders established when they formed our republic more than two centuries ago.

I say this with no desire to lecture the AG about the law, or the U.S. Constitution.

However, when he pops off about a federal judge sitting on the bench “on an island in the Pacific,” he has disrespected one of the basic frameworks set aside by those founders.

The judge presides over a federal court in Hawaii, one of the nation’s 50 states. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson ruled against Trump’s temporary travel ban on constitutional grounds. The travel ban is now heading to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

You’ll recall, too, that the president himself referred to another federal jurist in Washington state as a “so-called judge” when he struck down an earlier travel ban involving refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries. Trump might need a lecture about the Constitution and the separation of powers written into it; he might need to be told about how the founders intended for the judiciary to be independent of political pressure. Given that Trump had zero government experience prior to becoming — gulp! — president, he might be unaware of the not-so-fine print written in the Constitution.

The attorney general should know better than to disparage a federal judge in the manner that he did.

An island in the Pacific? C’mon, Mr. Attorney General.

Suck it up. Let the courts do their job. Sure, you are entitled to challenge court decisions’ legality. However, let’s stop the petulant put-downs.

Same thing goes for you, too, Mr. President.