Cooper: Trump’s statements on the judiciary threaten the stability of the American government

Danny Cooper, Columnist

In Federalist Paper No. 51, James Madison explained the essential idea of separation of powers in the American government system and the importance of checks and balances. Madison wrote: “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” The man currently in charge of our executive branch is far from angelic and does not seem to enjoy the checks placed on his power by the judiciary. President Trump’s frequent assaults on the judicial branch during his short tenure in office should be taken more seriously than his other Twitter spats, as they most tangibly threaten the very fabric of the United States.

The judicial system had been the subject of his ire long before his inauguration. Last summer, Trump questioned the ability of a Mexican-American judge to preside over a civil suit against Trump University due to his ethnicity. Since then, Trump has questioned the legitimacy of the entire legal system. Last week, Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she refused to comply with his executive order restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, calling her actions a betrayal to the Department of Justice. On Saturday, Trump called James Robart, who sits on the bench for the federal District Court of Washington state, a “so-called judge” after Robart issued an order reversing the aforementioned executive order. Most alarmingly, Trump also said future terrorist attacks should be blamed on the legal system.

Two troubling bits of information seem to emerge from these outbursts. First, Trump feels the Department of Justice should be loyal to his wishes, rather than to the law or the Constitution. Second, Trump is attempting to undermine the legitimacy of the federal justice system to get his way. Ironic, considering both Yates and Robart were selected to their respective positions in processes free of the controversy and potential outside interference which plagued Trump’s election.

Trump is not the the first president to have a contentious relationship with the legal system. Andrew Jackson, a hot-headed populist inspiration for the current commander-in-chief, famously ignored the Supreme Court decision forbidding him from taking Cherokee land. So, although there are precedents for Trump’s behavior, they are not examples of ideal presidential behavior, and the fact that he launched an assault against the legal system so early in his presidency does not bode well.

Madison considered the separation of powers among the most important aspects of American democracy. In the event that the Electoral College failed to prevent a demagogue such as Trump from leading the country, it would be up to the judicial and legislative branches to serve as barriers to absolute tyranny. But the legislative branch seems content to let Trump run the country without interference, so it will be up to the judicial branch to protect our Constitutional rights over the next four years.

In the justice system, Trump has — for once — identified a wall he wants to remove: the wall impeding his route to absolute power. His inappropriate Twitter barbs are attempts to dismantle the legislative system’s legitimacy. We must be aware of Trump’s intentions and fight back, before this presidency further undermines our government and our country.

Danny Cooper is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.