"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 the powerful accuse courts of 'opening 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…and when the Executive Branch calls our courts and their work 'stupid,' 'horrible,' 'ridiculous,' 'incompetent,' 'a laughingstock,' and a 'complete and total disgrace,' you can hear the slurs and threats of executives like George Wallace echoing into the present. I know what I heard when a federal judge was called 'very biased and unfair' because he is 'of Mexican heritage’...when that judge's ethnicity was said to prevent his issuing 'fair rulings.' When that judge was called a 'hater' simply because he is Latino. I heard the words of James Eastland, a race-baiting politician, empowered by the falsehood of white supremacy, questioning the judicial temperament of a man solely because of the color of his skin. I heard those words, and I did not know if it was 1967 or 2017. But the slander and falsehoods thrown at courts today are not those of a critic seeking to improve the judiciary's search for truth. They are words of an attacker, seeking to distort and twist that search toward falsehood.1"
One could think that the words above would be attributed to a political pundit or a congress person trying to get a rise out of the public. But surprisingly, they are not. The words are part of a speech from a Federal Judge from the Southern District of Mississippi as he accepted the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal at the University of Virginia Law School last Thursday. Judge Carlton Wayne Reeves launched into what could only be described as a tirade against President Donald Trump and his characterizations of the judiciary during his term in office.
But what may be more unusual then the choice of words pick by Judge Reeves, is the fact that a sitting Federal Judge is bringing the fight directly to the President of the United States. In a time in history when the normal and usual way of doing things has been turned upside by the Trump Presidency, it now appears that the judiciary may have had enough and is ready to fight back. For so long, the judiciary has been viewed as the one branch of government that would not exchange barbs when attacked. To do so would question the Courts’ fundamental principles of fairness and neutrality. For how could a judge be unbiased, if he or she expressed personal views that seemed to voice disgust and contempt for a party?
Some may say that it is about time for the Courts to take a more active role in defending itself from attacks from other branches of government. But others may caution that by doing so negates their very purpose. Has Judge Reeves now just forced his recusal from any case where the United States Government is a party? And if by doing so has he played into the hands of President Trump who now has one less "Obama Area Judge" to contend with?
By Marc Consalo, Director of the Center for Law and Policy