Trump doesn’t take kindly to limits on his power
As President Trump is faced with unconstitutionally defying the rulings of the federal judiciary that has blocked his temporary immigration ban, he is being educated on the realities of the rule of law in our American democracy.
The three members of the Ninth Circuit Court panel who rejected the administration’s arguments to reinstate Trump’s travel ban on refugees and people from select Muslim countries has persuaded Trump to lash out at the naysaying judges. On Twitter, he warned them they will shoulder the blame if more terrorism occurs in the United States.
The president’s latest temper tantrum no doubt pleases his staunchest supporters. But his criticism of the Judiciary Branch continues to demonstrate his contempt for the most basic pillars of the nation’s trilateral separation of governmental powers.
On a much more trivial level, Trump thumbed his nose again last week at the notion that he is obliged to avoid conflicts of interest between his official obligations and his family’s private businesses. In yet another fit of Twitter pique, he chided Nordstrom, the department store, for dropping his daughter Ivanka’s line of women’s accessories.
True to form, his newly appointed counselor, pollster Kellyanne Conway, used her White House platform on friendly Fox News to shill for Ivanka’s line. She urged the faithful on the air: "Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I would tell you. … I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online."
This blatant violation of government ethics provisions led White House press secretary Sean Spicer to assure reporters in the West Wing press briefing room that counselor Conway had been "counseled on the subject" and cut short any further questioning.
Appearing again on Fox News that night, Conway declined further comment on what appeared to have been a trip to the woodshed for her misstep, other than to say Trump still supported her "100 percent."
From all this, it has become abundantly clear that Donald Trump intends to stick to the free-wheeling, evasive personal style with which he won the presidency, marching to his own drummer and to hell with the law and the consequences. In his long and apparently successful business career as a real estate and luxury hotel tycoon, his modus operandi has always been thus. He has repeatedly been hauled into court by contractors suing for work done on his construction projects without the promised compensation.
During the 2016 campaign, candidate Trump bragged about regularly not settling cases and instead lawyering his way out of charges against him. Nevertheless, last year he eventually settled with petitioners in a case against his Trump University who contended they were swindled after paying high tuition fees for courses that did not measure up to educational enrichment promised.
As president, however, the stakes can be infinitely greater for Trump, as he clings to his contention that requirements of national security justify it.
The three members of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously voted against lifting a lower court’s injunction on Trump’s ban, rejecting the government’s argument that would-be immigrants from seven Middle East countries of heavy Muslim population posed a clear enough terrorist threat to justify the order, which violates the due-process rights of those affected.
Trump’s immediate response, via Twitter, was defiant: "SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE." A Justice Department spokesman representing him said it was "reviewing the decision and considering its options," which include going to the full Ninth Circuit or the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Trump will have to decide whether to continue his abusive attacks on federal judges who have displeased him, which common sense suggests could only anger other members of the federal judiciary he will challenge, for all their determination to stick to the legal merits of the case.
As for the allegation that Trump’s immigration ban violated the constitutional protection of the free exercise of religion, the government predictably would argue that it would not be a "Muslim ban" because millions of others from other countries are not covered by it.
Pushing against a Supreme Court rejection would only invite congressional censure or impeachment.
In the end, he might withdraw the original executive order and rewrite it in a way that would not raise the constitutional issues. But backing off has never been his style.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power," published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.