President Donald Trump is the worst client in the world.
Yet again, this time in a case involving his threat to withhold funding from so-called “sanctuary cities,” Trump’s careless out-of-court statements have come to bite him in the behind, just as they did in the travel ban cases. You can almost hear his lawyers sigh with exasperation.
And yet, following the judge’s injunction against the sanctuary cities order, finding it overbroad and likely unconstitutional, Trump issued yet more outrageous statements, more lies, and more of a record for what would be the president’s ultimate court case: his impeachment trial.
Ironically, the core of the district court ruling is something conservatives should love: a defense of federalism. “Sanctuary cities” is a broad term, but it basically refers to cities where local law enforcement doesn’t ask criminal suspects about immigration status and doesn’t routinely share such information with the federal government. That’s a local law enforcement decision, not the federal government’s business. That’s federalism, which conservatives are supposed to like.
Moreover, District Judge William Orrick ruled, federal funding must be allocated on the basis of relevant criteria. You can’t withhold housing grants, for example, because of an immigration enforcement issue. That’s not what housing grants are about.
But it was Trump’s unforced errors that really swung the decision. The government’s lawyers said the funds affected were small, but Trump said they were huge. The lawyers said it was just a mild allocation of funding, but Trump said it was punishment. The lawyers said that the order was narrowly focused on the sharing of information, but Trump said it was a broad weapon against cities not complying with the law.
In other words, Trump’s tweets sunk his case.
And yet, he went right back at it. As if to reassure those of us worried that Trump’s incompetence might not protect us from his malevolence, the ruling was greeted by another tweetstorm filled with usefully outrageous claims.
At 6:20 a.m. today, he went off:
This is false: the ruling was from a district court, not the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Indeed, the Ninth Circuit, which Trump just insulted, will be the next court to hear the appeal of the order. Trump just pilloried the judges he’s going to be standing in front of next week.
Let’s also not pass over the president of the United States calling a federal court ruling “ridiculous.” No matter how many times Trump does this, it’s not normal. No president has treated the judiciary with this level of disrespect, not since Andrew Jackson dared the Supreme Court to enforce its own decisions. Our democracy is not a reality show. When you lose, your opponent isn’t ridiculous. Indeed, in this case, your opponent is democracy itself, whether you like the outcome or not.
Minutes later, Trump tweeted out more lies and outrages:
Wrong. First, the case was brought within the Ninth Circuit (again, at a district court, not the appellate court) because the City of San Francisco was the plaintiff. There is no other circuit in which this case could have been tried.
Second, everyone engages in ‘judge shopping’ when possible, including Trump himself, in his countless lawsuits over the years. It’s what smart lawyers do. Even if this were court shopping, which it is not, to suggest that this is somehow improper is outrageous.
Not as outrageous, though, as delegitimizing the entire ninth federal circuit. Once again, Trump seems not to understand or agree with the basic tenets of American democracy. You just can’t do this. You just can’t insult an entire federal circuit and imply that its decisions (which, again this ruling is not among) are illegitimate or less than fully valid.
This kind of outrageous disrespect for the rule of law is evidence of Trump’s unfitness for office, whether he means it or not. Indeed, what is the opposite of a “messy system”: a tidy one in which the ruler always gets his way?
Even more disturbing, though, is that Trump’s cavalier attitude appears to be spreading like herpes. Reince Priebus, who is supposed to represent the not-insane faction within the White House, called the ruling “another example of how the Ninth Circuit went bananas.”
Shame on you, Mr. Priebus. Your boss doesn’t know any better—but you do. If this were an ordinary White House, you’d be asked to resign for making a comment like that.
Oh, and then there are those messy facts. As reported by the New York Times, actually the Supreme Court’s overturn rate for Ninth Circuit decisions is only slightly above average: 79%, compared with a 70% average for all the circuit courts. If that seems high, it’s because that figure only refers to cases that the Supreme Court chose to hear—not all petitions that were filed. Most appellate decisions are never reviewed at all.
In other words, it’s a bogus statistic.
Lawyers know about clients like this: ignoramouses who can’t keep their big mouths shut, and open them wide enough to put their feet inside. If Trump would just STFU, judges would have to take the government’s lawyers at their word—that the sanctuary order is modest, that it’s not meant to be punitive, that it’s a mere allocation of existing resources, and that Trump is someone worthy of the respect due his office.
Yet the president is unable to discipline himself. The consequences are already dire for our democracy: this is a miserable state of affairs, with the United States reduced to a kind of banana republic led by an erratic strongman. But they could also be serious for Trump himself.
Given Republican Party politics, it’s extremely unlikely that President Trump will ever face impeachment—not until after the 2018 congressional elections, anyway. But if he does, his statements ridiculing judges and lying about details large and small (Wiretapping! Three million illegal votes!) will come back to haunt him. They will all be Exhibit A in the case against Trump’s ability to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.
We may never get there, but if an impeachment trial ever does take place, Trump’s tantrums against the federal judiciary may tweet him right out of office.