A federal judge on Wednesday assailed President Donald Trump for his repeated attacks on various legal decisions and judges, stating the President’s bombastic criticism is feeding into a “destructive narrative.”
US District Court Judge Paul Friedman said Trump’s personal attacks on judges are helping “undermine faith in the rule of law itself.”
“This obviously is a trend we’re seeing throughout public life, but, I would suggest, the stakes in attacking the judiciary have graver implications,” Friedman said in remarks as part of a lecture series at a federal courthouse in Washington. “And regrettably, the current President of the United States is feeding right into this destructive narrative.”
He added, “We are witnessing a chief executive who criticizes virtually every judicial decision that doesn’t go his way and denigrates judges who rule against him, sometimes in very personal terms. He seems to view the courts and the justice system as obstacles to be attacked and undermined, not as a co-equal branch to be respected even when he disagrees with its decisions.”
Friedman acknowledged that Trump “is not the first president to be frustrated with judicial outcomes,” but posited “what we are witnessing today and over the last few years is markedly different.”
“The reality is that when the Trump administration has lost cases in the courts, it is not because of Clinton or Obama judges, but because of judges who are trying to follow the law and the Constitution,” he said.
To make his case, the judge detailed Trump’s wide-ranging attacks on Judges Richard Seeborg, William Orrick, James Robart, Jon Tigar and Gonzalo Curiel. During the 2016 campaign, Trump had accused Curiel, who was born in the US, of having an “inherent conflict of interest” in a lawsuit against a Trump University lawsuit because of his Mexican heritage.
Friedman said Wednesday the “personal ad hominem attacks” on Curiel “set a terrible precedent and encouraged others to join the chorus.”
“This was beyond a dog whistle,” he said. “This was a shout.”
William Taylor, a well-known Washington defense lawyer, said Friedman got a “standing ovation which went on for some minutes” after he criticized the President for attempting to bully the federal judiciary.
Friedman wasn’t interrupted at all as he gave the speech, but when he mentioned Trump, “some people certainly sitting around me nodded their heads in agreement and appreciation,” Taylor said.
DC US Attorney Jessie Liu gave additional remarks at the event Wednesday, but she steered clear of commenting on politics and the administration, Taylor said.
Friedman spoke to more than 200 attorneys — many of them prominent in Washington — in the federal courthouse in Washington on Wednesday.
Taylor is a partner at the law firm Zuckerman Spaeder, whose leadership helps to organize the annual lecture at which Friedman spoke.
While it is exceedingly rare for a sitting judge to launch an attack against a sitting president, it’s not unprecedented in Trump’s time in office. In April, Judge Carlton Wayne Reeves of the US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi took a broad swipe against the President in quoting his tweets, although he did not name Trump specifically.
“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,” Reeves said at the time.
In his remarks Wednesday, Friedman emphasized he was “not suggesting in the least that our work should go unexamined” but said it is “hard to remember a time when judges, courts, and the judicial branch in general were subjected to so much gratuitous criticism, vitriolic commentary, and purposely misleading attacks.”