A federal judge who presided over a challenge to the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program appeared to criticize President Donald Trump’s rhetoric respecting the judiciary.
Judge John Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia made the remarks Thursday at a townhall-style event on judicial independence in Philadelphia at the National Constitution Center. Though he did not name Trump specifically, his comments left little mystery as to whom he was referring.
“There are a lot of pressures,” Bates said. “The pressures are fairly severe in some quarters. And there’s a risk of eating away at the rule of law, eating away at judicial independence, and that’s not easily recovered if it is impacted.”
“‘Once the independence of judges is destroyed, the Constitution is gone. It is a dead letter. It is a vapor which the breath of faction in a moment may dissipate,’” Bates added, quoting Alexander Hamilton.
The comments came after Bates lamented that social media has magnified attacks on the judiciary, which may have been an oblique reference to the president’s Twitter feed. During the 2016 presidential campaign, for example, Trump tweeted critically of Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the federal judge presiding over a civil suit against the now defunct Trump University.
I have a judge in the Trump University civil case, Gonzalo Curiel (San Diego), who is very unfair. An Obama pick. Totally biased-hates Trump
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2016
Bates heard a challenge to the Trump administration’s attempted termination of the DACA program — in March he issued a decision finding that DACA’s rescission was unlawful. The government is still litigating this controversy in federal court.
Chief Justice John Roberts has selected Bates for two significant appointments. Roberts elevated Bates to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2009, then named him director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in 2013. The administrative office provides logistical, financial and managerial support for the federal judiciary.
Roberts himself issued a rare public rebuke of the president in November after Trump derided a federal judge who barred enforcement of his new asylum rules.
Former President George W. Bush appointed Bates to the federal trial court in Washington, D.C., in 2001. He assumed senior status in 2014, a form of quasi-retirement that permits Bates to hear cases as needed.
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