Hail to the Chief. Not the pretender at 1600 Pennsylvania, but the real one who presides over SCOTUS at 1 First Street NE. When an honest and comprehensive history of the nasty and brutish Trump administration is chronicled, years from now, Wednesday November 21, 2018 will be marked as the turning point, after which Trump’s fall proceeded steadily and the ultimate crash became certain.
Fittingly on eref Thanksgiving, Chief Justice John Roberts showed again that he’s a patriot and has earned the title “Chief” and possibly “chef” by preparing and serving his own special recipe for down dressing, to Trump for his continuing attack on Article III judges and asserting that there are Obama judges, Trump judges and that all the others are defined by the presidents who nominated them.
Trump’s assertion, not a lie exactly, certainly is not true and both politicizes and erodes faith in the judicial branch and the rule of law, as Trump intended. That same future history may conclude that Steve Bannon’s strain of anarchy was the engine for Trump’s wrecking ball or it may be that Trump is a man more in the manner of Manson’s Helter Skelter. Regardless, it is hard to overstate how much damage Trump has done or over-estimate the importance of Roberts’ rebuke.
The Chief knows, like every former federal judicial nominee does, that the affinity/gratitude for/to the nominating president begins to steadily erode at the moment of confirmation to a position with LIFE TENURE – unless the new judge is bucking for a promotion in or outside the judiciary.
As H.L. pointed out at the beginning of the Trump abomination,
“. . . the United States is a ‘nation of laws not of men’ nor of women. . . that’s a good thing that not only is undercut but becomes less true if there is a widespread perception that it’s not really about the constitution and statutes but all about the women and men who apply or bend their interpretations and applications of the law according to their tastes and those of the executives who appointed them. The best judges and most judges at their finest moments don’t do that”
(H.L. 19 – A Nation of Laws Not of Judges or the People Who Appointed Them, 2/17/2017 on this site).
Roberts exemplified these principles when he provided the decisive votes and clearly voted against his own belief in the two Obamacare decisions, and with these clearly earned the title of Chief. (“Roberts Seizes the Moment,” Albany Times Union, 7/7/2012, available on this site)
The reasons that Roberts’ reprimand is the turning point are several. Trump has absolutely nothing to give or withhold from Roberts, except possibly further polluting the Friday SCOTUS conference by nominating another Kavanaugh-like object – should he get the chance.
Roberts, on the other hand, has weapons, including his swing vote and considerable power as Chief to inflict much pain on Trump, and possibly some with extreme prejudice. Many of those daily debate questions may wind up in SCOTUS. About executive privilege, about the pardon power, about compulsory process, indictment and prosecution directed at a sitting president and others. Last time we checked, the Chief presides over trial in the Senate after the House does its thing.
And Roberts, the current swing vote, wields far more power than the previous “middlemen,” Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy. Because he also is Chief, Roberts assigns opinions, controls the entire judicial rule making process and purse, etc.
When Roberts let Trump have it, he signaled it was safe and time for others on the right to do the same, within their own spheres of competence and influence. For environmentalists from the right, and for Republicans with standing in the healthcare, trade, diplomacy, military, competition, education and many other areas being savaged by this administration. The process has begun, the corner and tide turned and the march of the platitudes proceeds. H.L.’s personal favorite involves Checks and Balances, the organization founded by George (Mr. Kellyanne) Conway and other hard right lawyers to oppose Trump’s attack on the rule of law and oppose the administration, which Conway terms a “Dumpster Fire”. It’s all downhill from here Herr Trump.