Monday, January 30, 2017

Well This Should be Interesting

Shakespeare famously wrote in Henry VI, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." The line was uttered by Dick the Butcher, who in following the rebel Jack Cade, believed that upending law and order could make him king. So although it's often cited as a mandate to decimate a corrupt profession, others have noted that the Bard intended the statement to compliment decent stewards of justice.

Regardless of what he meant, I'd respond to Shakespeare today with three words: Not so fast.

Right now, the Trump administration is teeing up for a grudge match in the United States Supreme Court. It hasn't happened yet, but it will; on which of Trump's various and dizzying constitutional violations is anyone's guess.

The really interesting question will be how Trump will react the first time the United States Supreme Court hands down an order that rebukes one of his actions as unconstitutional. And make no mistake: it will happen. It's not a question of if, but when. To quote Shakespeare once more, if past is prologue, Trump will take to Twitter to rant and rave, and whether he will ultimately respect an adverse court order from the nation's highest court remains to be seen.

Say what you will about their politics, but with limited exceptions, the justices of the United States Supreme Court (and the federal court system in general) are now, and historically have been, decent intellectuals and constitutional scholars with lifetime appointments. 

So regardless of Trump's nominee for the ninth seat on the Court tomorrow, I am confident that someone of the intellectual caliber of Chief Justice John Roberts and at least four of his colleagues will not allow a shredding of the Constitution to go unanswered.

Federal judges across the country have already been signaling this in ruling against Trump's immigration ban, and as noted in the above-linked CNN story, the Department of Homeland Security is now agreeing to comply with those orders when previously it seemed to imply it would not.

It's all very confusing, really.

The once (read: last month) unthinkable idea that an executive branch agency would defy a federal court order is alarming. More alarming, even, than the erasure of the entire judicial branch from the White House website, an omission that was later corrected, but certainly odd in the first place; or the appointment of Steve Bannon, an avowed white nationalist agitator, to a powerful national security council seat normally reserved for generals.

Again, here's the really interesting (and scary) part: a strong and fair judiciary is the last true backstop of a constitutional democracy. The bulk of this work is done in the lower courts, which so far are functioning properly but might not be for long, if and when Trump chooses to flout their orders, and, ultimately, an order from SCOTUS. 

Trump has already declared the media the "opposition party." What happens when the Supreme Court collides with his ego? 

If and when Trump defies a United States Supreme Court order (and let's face it, he might)--and Congress does nothing to stop him (and let's face it, they might)--he will have accomplished nothing short of a coup.

3 comments:

  1. Bring it on, the sooner the better. As shrewd and calculating as Trump et al may be, I have faith in the American people and our constitutional system of government. We'll win this battle in the end.

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  2. Take a look at whose portrait is on the wall here: https://tinyurl.com/hvy5ejw. Good old SCOTUS-defying architect of the Trail of Tears --Andrew Jackson.

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