You can add the Supreme Court to the list.
Though he was on an official visit to India, Trump carved out time in his schedule Monday for the activity he values above all others: watching Fox News. In response to a segment on Laura Ingraham’s show about a particularly biting dissent Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, he tweeted that she and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg “should recuse themselves on all Trump, or Trump related, matters!”
In other words: A Supreme Court justice who likes me, whom I appointed, who shares my agenda, who rules in my favor at every opportunity, or whose wife acts as an adviser to my White House? Those justices should absolutely be voting in cases involving me personally and my administration. But any hint of disagreement with me over anything means that a justice should be removed from considering any case in which I’m involved.
Then when asked about it in a press briefing on Tuesday, Trump elaborated:
I always thought that, frankly, that Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg should [recuse herself] because she went wild during the campaign when I was running. [...] And then Justice Sotomayor said what she said yesterday, you know very well what she said yesterday, it was a big story. And I just don’t know how they can not recuse themselves for anything having to do with Trump or Trump-related. [...][Sotomayor’s] statement was so inappropriate. When you’re a justice of the Supreme Court, it’s almost what she’s trying to do is take the people who do feel a different way and get them to vote the way that she would like them to vote. I just thought it was so inappropriate. Such a terrible statement for a Supreme Court justice.
Imagine, a justice writing an opinion intended to persuade other justices to vote with her! Shocking.
The backstory on Ginsburg relates to a couple of interviews she gave in the summer of 2016. She told the New York Times, “I can’t imagine what the country would be — with Donald Trump as our president,” then told CNN Trump was “a faker.”
Met with widespread criticism — not for the content of her remarks but for the violation of the norm that Supreme Court justices shouldn’t comment on elections, she issued a statement saying: “On reflection, my recent response to press inquiries were ill-advised and I regret making them. Judges should avoid commenting on a candidate for public office. In the future I will be more circumspect.”
But Trump’s response to Ginsburg was to tweet, “Justice Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court has embarrassed all by making very dumb political statements about me. Her mind is shot - resign!”
Sotomayor just issued a strong dissent in a case involving the administration’s “public charge” rule that essentially imposes a wealth test on immigrants; the conservative majority on the court allowed the rule to take effect while the case is still unresolved.
Sotomayor took issue both with the administration routinely seeking “emergency” rulings that circumvent the normal appellate process so that policies that are being litigated can take effect, and with her conservative colleagues for being eager to grant them whenever the administration asks. “It is hard to say what is more troubling: that the government would seek this extraordinary relief seemingly as a matter of course, or that the court would grant it,” she wrote.
It may be out of the ordinary for a justice to address that kind of pattern (rather than merely one specific case) in a dissent, but it hardly demonstrates some kind of inability to rule fairly. But that’s just what Trump decided: That it’s about him, and if Sotomayor isn’t being kind enough to him, she ought to get out of the way.
His position is self-evidently absurd, of course. You could just as easily argue that every justice on the court should recuse themselves from any case involving the administration, because they all have either expressed positions or have associations that connect to it in one way or another.
To take just one example, Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife is reportedly one of the leaders of an effort to help the administration purge people in the government they believe are disloyal to Trump and replace them with right-wing operatives. She regularly consults with administration officials.
If a reporter asked the president if that means Thomas should recuse himself from anything having to do with Trump or his administration, I’m sure he’d find the question bizarre. Because Trump thinks and operates according to the autocrat’s logic, which says that procedures, laws and norms are there to bind those I don’t like, and to be used by me as weapons against my opponents. They don’t bind me or those who support me.
In the past, people in both parties have pretended that Supreme court justices don’t really have political views or substantive opinions about policy; they’re just there to “call balls and strikes” on the law and the Constitution, in Chief Justice John Roberts’s preposterous formulation. It was never true, but acting as though it might be at least honors the ideal of impartial justice.
But Trump isn’t interested in impartiality. He only wants to know: Are you loyal to me? If you aren’t, he’ll come after you one way or another.