Donald Trump v. The Court System

All-around nice guy Steve Friess interviewed me and a number of lawyers more famous than me for Newsweek regarding Donald Trump’s and the Trump administration’s battles with judges and with the court system. Some excerpts:

“The Supreme Court decisions regarding Trump’s taxes this past term was a surprise,” says Chicago attorney Pejman Yousefzadeh, another co-signer of [a 2016 letter signed by conservative legal scholars warning that Trump was unfit to be president because they did not “trust him to respect constitutional limits in the rest of his conduct in office]. “With the efforts made to create a conservative court, I was concerned that the court would be excessively deferential to him. It was refreshing to see that that didn’t happen.”

[. . .]

Yousefzadeh says Trump’s team used the court’s slow pace, too, to create roadblocks for Congress in trying to compel testimony in a panoply of corruption probes including those related to foreign meddling in the 2016 election and Trump’s efforts to persuade Ukraine to launch a criminal probe of Biden’s possible involvement of the ouster of the country’s prosecutor general. Dozens of subpoenas were defied with claims that the likes of former Chief of Staff Don McGahn or National Security Adviser John Bolton‘s discussions with Trump were protected by executive privilege. Representative Adam Schiff, chair of the House Select Committee on Intelligence and a leader in efforts to investigate the president, said he moved ahead without hearing from those witnesses to present the two articles of impeachment that passed against Trump because litigating those subpoenas would take too long. “We are not going to allow the White House to engage us in a lengthy game of rope-a-dope in the courts,” Schiff said in October 2019.

[. . .]

Another front on which Trump was flummoxed: None of his political foes or foils—Obama, vanquished Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton or Biden’s son Hunter—were prosecuted by his Department of Justice. This, too, is seen as a credit to the strength of the judiciary inasmuch as the court system wouldn’t tolerate it, Yousefzadeh says. “What prevented the ‘lock him up’ or ‘lock her up’ chants from becoming realized is the fact that you did actually have good people in the Justice Department who said, ‘This is ridiculous, this is a non-starter’ and even the current attorney general realized that this would be an appalling step too far,” he says.

[. . .]

Yousefzadeh remains anxious, though, that the judiciary has sustained damage under Trump, who showed future would-be autocrats the loopholes and weaknesses to exploit even if Trump himself wasn’t clever enough to take full advantage.

“I would like to think the courts would remain the last line of defense, even if the justice department were fully bent to a future president’s will,” Yousefzadeh says. “But we’ve seen how many norms have gone by the wayside over the past four years, and that was with a relatively incompetent president. I shudder to think of how much worse it could be if a president who had it together far more on a personal level might come along and renew and assault on our legal institutions.”

Read the whole thing. If this ending reads as though I am concerned about the future of our legal and judicial institutions, that is because I am.

(Photo Credit.)

(Cross-posted here and here.)

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