It’s an odd tradition, but contrary to what the left would have you believe, it is something of a tradition. On Sunday morning the White House released its “outlook” for the week with an unusual event scheduled for Thursday evening — dinner at the White House between Trump and members of the Supreme Court. Liberals and their media friends were shocked:
This is highly unusual — President will have dinner with the Justices of the Supreme Court on Thursday, according to the White House
— Jonathan Karl (@jonkarl) April 23, 2017
The dinner was “postponed” yesterday after the predictable uproar on Twitter, replete with Democratic senators grandstanding about it. Since when does the Supreme Court socialize with the president, whose administration appears constantly before it as a party and who may himself end up as a party in his individual capacity, whether over conflicts of interest or other matters? Since … a long time ago, as it turns out. Julie Silverbrook has a nifty short history:
Per Smithsonian magazine: FDR dined with Supreme Court Justices just days before announcing his Court packing scheme and during a time when the Justices were hearing challenges to FDR’s New Deal agenda…
From the National Archives, a photo of President Jimmy Carter and his wife hosting an informal dinner for members of the Supreme Court and their spouses…
In October 2008, President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush hosted a dinner at the White House in honor of the Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court.
President Obama often invited Supreme Court justices to state dinners for foreign leaders. Justices Kennedy, Sotomayor, Kagan and Scalia all attended such dinners during his presidency.
It’s not so strange that the heads of one branch of the federal government might schmooze with the head of a branch they’re supposed to be checking and balancing. It happens all the time with members of Congress and the president, after all. I think the liberal reaction here goes beyond standard hyperpartisanship, to Trump himself: Once you adopt “this is not normal” as your frame for his administration, anything he does that’s the least bit unorthodox begins to look alarmingly unconventional — even when there’s plenty of precedent to support it, as there is in this case. Also, because they view Trump as fundamentally unethical, him wanting to schmooze with judges who will rule on his policies takes on an air of improper influence that wouldn’t attach to the same degree to, say, Bush or Obama doing the same. (Certainly would-be Court-packer Franklin Roosevelt wouldn’t have dreamed of of trying to inappropriately tilt SCOTUS in his direction by wining and dining them.) And when all else fails, you can argue that Trump is unique among presidents who’ve followed this tradition because some of his former campaign staffers are currently being looked at by the FBI for possible Russian influence. Should a president be inviting SCOTUS to dinner when his associates are under federal investigation — even if, er, he himself is not, as far as we know?
I don’t think there’s an ethical problem with POTUS extending an invite. The real question is, should SCOTUS accept the invitation? The comparison I made to Congress socializing with the president doesn’t work: Yeah, the legislature and judiciary are both charged with checking the president, but Congress doesn’t have a professional duty to be impartial in carrying out its tasks. To the contrary, Congress arguably has to schmooze with the president to do its job. I don’t think anyone seriously believes John Roberts is going to vote differently on the legality of ObamaCare’s cost-sharing subsidies because he and the gang spent two hours eating meatloaf with Trump, but judges are supposed to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, and the Court dining with a party to litigation would seem improper in virtually any other case. How did this tradition begin, I wonder? It’s weird that people haven’t much objected to it in the past.