James Shott / March 21, 2017

When Judges Abandon the Constitution and the Law

Some things might as well be written in Klingon for how judges misinterpret them.

If you’ve ever read legal documents you will likely have noticed how detailed, specific and often obtuse the language is. The purpose of such language is to assure that the intent of the document is clearly set forth, and this language is well understood by lawyers.

However, despite the careful legal wording of President Donald Trump’s Executive Order (EO) temporarily suspending travel to the U.S. from seven countries with close ties to terrorism, U.S. District Judge James Robart in Washington found problems with the document last month, and issued a temporary stay. A revised second version of that EO, rewritten to avoid the objectionable parts of the first one, including removing one of the seven countries on the list, was found unacceptable by two other federal judges, U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii, and Maryland U.S. District Court Judge Theodore Chuang.

The revised document may as well have been written in the language of the Klingons, because these two judges ignored the Order itself, rejecting the travel suspension due to negative statements about Muslim immigrants Trump made during the campaign.

Even though the people who have to implement the EO must do only what it says, the judges, in their infinite wisdom, decided that what they imagine to be the thinking of the president is more important than what the document actually mandates.

Apparently, these federal judges are confused about their jobs or perhaps just don’t care about professional ethics or their sworn duties. They apparently believe that in ruling on a legal document they should ignore the actual document that is being challenged, and instead rely on speculation about the opinions of the document’s creator, and act to protect certain rights of immigrants and foreigners that the Constitution does not assign to them.

Under 8 U.S. Code § 1182(f) Congress granted the president broad discretion to suspend the entry of “any class of aliens” into the United States, and independently broad discretion over the refugee program.

That section reads: “Suspension of entry or imposition of restrictions by President — Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.” This section of the law goes on to assign authority to the attorney general over activities by airlines bringing in non-citizen passengers, further assigning complete authority over entry to the country to the executive branch of the government, not the judiciary.

The law is crystal clear in its meaning, and does not provide as exceptions to the power of the president the personal opinions of federal judges or the beliefs or motives that these unelected referees ascribe to the president.

Perhaps the reason these judges didn’t want to rule on the actual language and effect of the Order is that it disagrees with their personal opinions. The Heritage Foundation’s Hans Von Spakovsky, a former Department of Justice lawyer, said, “I don’t think [these judges] have any professional shame about it — in fact, they’re being applauded by newspaper editors for actually ignoring the law and [Supreme Court] rulings based on their own personal policy preferences.”

He notes that, despite the plain text of the law and prior Supreme Court decisions, these rulings are “destructive of the rule of law, which is the entire basis of our Republic.” This, he said, “is a very bad development that threatens our democracy … [and] it looks like it is going to get worse [because] we’re going to have more and more litigation, and it is very clear that the progressive left wants to use the courts to fight the way our democracy works.” Finally, he added, “I think what they’re doing is very anti-democratic.”

Indeed. What can be worse for a country that lives by Rule of Law than to have some judges who don’t follow or honor the law or the Constitution, but instead make law from the bench or twist laws to suit their personal or political preferences? Unfortunately, that is what leftist judges do, and this behavior has reached crisis proportions.

These legal rulings raise important questions:

What is the proper response to a federal court ruling that is so plainly contrary to the law? Should the Trump administration follow a clearly illegal ruling and attempt to overturn it though a lengthy appeal process, or defy the federal courts?

What should happen to judges who issue rulings at odds with laws and the Constitution that they are sworn to uphold?

Aren’t these judges directly responsible for any harm done to American citizens as a result of persons with the intent to do harm getting into the country by virtue of their rulings?

In one of his famous warnings about the “despotic branch,” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The Constitution … is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary which they may twist and shape into any form they please.” How we handle the above questions goes a long way to determining whether our Constitution survives or is twisted and shaped, perhaps irreparably, by unaccountable judges.

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