Robert Reich: Now Trump Is Threatening the Independence of Judges

This article first appeared on RobertReich.org.

One way dictators take over democracies is by threatening the independence of a nation’s courts. Donald Trump is doing just this.

Connect the following dots:

1. In January, Trump blasted a federal judge for staying his travel ban. “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” he tweeted.

2. In February, after the judge made the stay permanent, Trump issued a veiled threat: “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”

3. Last week, after another federal judge issued a nationwide injunction blocking Trump’s travel ban, Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, said “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.”

Related: Robert Reich : Trump's Tyranny Attacks on Three Fronts

4. On Tuesday, after another federal judge blocked the Trump administration from enforcing a threat to take away funds from sanctuary cities, the White House issued a statement condemning the judge as “unelected.”

The statement charged

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. This case is yet one more example of egregious overreach by a single, unelected district judge.

04_27_Trump_Judges_01 Chief Justice Mary M. Schroeder, of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, laughs during oral arguments in a San Francisco courtroom, September 22, 2003. Robert Reich writes that Donald Trump said he was considering breaking up the court of appeals for the 9th Circuit, which covers Arizona, California, Alaska, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Washington and Hawaii, as well as Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Eighteen of the court’s 25 judges were appointed by Democratic presidents. Paul Sakuma/reuters

5. On Wednesday, Trump said he was considering breaking up the court of appeals for the 9th Circuit, in which these three federal judges hear and decide cases. "There are many people who want to break up the 9th Circuit,” he said. “It’s outrageous.”

The 9th Circuit Court covers Arizona, California, Alaska, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Washington and Hawaii, as well as Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Eighteen of the court’s 25 judges were appointed by Democratic presidents.

Related: Robert Reich : Is Trump a Traitor or a Paranoid?

It is the job of the Justice Department to provide a reasoned case for overruling a federal judge’s decision. In condemning individual judges and threatening to break up the court of appeals instead, Trump is attacking the foundations of the separation of powers in the Constitution.

This assault on the federal judiciary is an abuse of Trump’s constitutional authority – yet another ground for impeachment.

Robert Reich is the chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, and Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He has written 14 books, including the best-sellers Aftershock, The Work of Nations and Beyond Outrage and, most recently, Saving Capitalism. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and co-creator of the award-winning documentary Inequality for All .

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