I feel like there might be better ways to counter Trump’s point that “Obama judges” are hopelessly biased against him than for an Obama judge to launch into a sustained comparison between his criticism of the courts and KKK activities.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg once jabbed Trump in terms milder than these and felt obliged to apologize afterwards, fearing that her impartiality would be questioned. Her comments were more personal, though, aimed at Trump the man. (E.g., “He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego.”) Carlton Reeves’s comments are aimed specifically at Trump’s complaints about judges. Presumably that’ll spare him from any ethical rebuke that he’s failed to “promote confidence in the judiciary” by communicating his contempt for the president. Trump’s the one’s undermining confidence in the judiciary, Reeves might say. By blasting him, I’m the one who’s trying to promote it.
“When politicians attack courts as ‘dangerous,’ ‘political,’ and guilty of ‘egregious overreach,’ you can hear the Klan’s lawyers, assailing officers of the court across the South. When leaders chastise people for merely ‘us[ing] the courts,’ you can hear the Citizens Council, hammering up the names of black petitioners in Yazoo City, [Mississippi],” Reeves said, quoting Trump. “When the powerful accuse courts of ‘open[ing] up our country to potential terrorists,’ you can hear the Southern Manifesto’s authors, smearing the judiciary for simply upholding the rights of black folk. When lawmakers say ‘we should get rid of judges,’ you can hear segregationist senators, writing bills to strip courts of their power.”…
Reeves’s criticism of the president was no off-the-cuff comment. The written version of his speech is 16 pages and features 130 footnotes citing not only Trump’s tweets, but also news articles and law review articles.
Golly, I myself have occasionally criticized court decisions as “dangerous,” “political,” and guilty of “egregious overreach.” If and when SCOTUS blows up Roe, the left will accuse the Court in terms far more apocalyptic than that. “There was a judge the other day who compared me to the Klan!” Trump will inevitably say at his next rally. “You mean to tell me these people aren’t in the tank against Trump?” That’ll be useful to him and Reeves surely must have anticipated it when he chose to frame his point in these terms, but he went ahead anyway. Faith in the neutrality of the courts will not increase as a result.
This reminds me, in fact, of the point often made to reporters that signaling their contempt for Trump does more to damage their profession than it does to damage him. Trump likes when members of ostensibly neutral institutions betray the pretense of neutrality in displaying their disgust for him. Jim Acosta, for instance, has always been more of an asset to Trump than a threat, the guy whom righties instinctively think of when Trump complains about the media being out to get him. Reeves is whom they’ll think of when he complains about the courts being out to get him. You’d think that the guardians of “norms” would learn eventually (as Bob Mueller seemingly did) that carrying on their work in silence and leaving criticism of his demagoguery to more political actors is a better way to encourage respect for those norms. And, in fairness, most do: Reeves’s speech here is noteworthy precisely because it’s unusual for a judge. Still a gift to Trump, though.