In a column for Politico, University of Chicago law professor Aziz Huq wrote that a highly controversial ruling by Judge Aileen Cannon of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida has revived fears that Donald Trump has packed the courts with loyalists who will rule in ways that will please him which will, in turn, create legal chaos in cases involving the ex-president and other conservative figures.
Cannon's decision to ask for a special master to review highly sensitive government documents the former president took to Mar-a-Lago with him when he lost the 2020 presidential election has set off a firestorm of legal squabbling and worries about the independence of the courts.
In particular, Huq claims "Trump judges" will be scrutinized from this point forward over their adherence to settled law.
Writing, "...it’s also sparked a more fundamental — and worrisome — debate about judicial independence, one that seemed to have all but abated over the last two years: Is there really a difference between 'Obama judges' and 'Trump judges,' as the former president once insisted, and as he recently seemed to confirm by his litigation strategy? Or do we have an independent judiciary that rises above politics?"
Adding to those concerns were comments made by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts who claimed in 2018, "We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” which Trump quickly disputed.
Now those fears have come home to roost, Huq wrote.
"It is in this context of pervasive skepticism about the quality of American courts that Cannon issued her order. In its details, it confirms and exacerbates skepticism about the idea of an apolitical bench. Even conservative commentators have flagged its sharp swerve from the normal treatment criminal suspects receive based on 'irrelevant' considerations about Trump’s “reputation.” Concerns were stoked when Trump’s lawyers 'went shopping' for a judge he’d appointed — rather than appear before the magistrate who’d issued the original warrant — and who’s received death threats for his pains from the former president’s supporters. And they flared further when Cannon telegraphed her intention to rule for the president who appointed her even before the Justice Department had filed any papers," he explained.
According to the legal scholar, Cannon's ruling is not only troubling by itself but it should also set off alarm bells because, "... it seems to affirm, and hence accentuate, a larger narrative of fracturing judicial independence."
"Whether one ultimately believes that the federal courts are increasingly partisan, or whether one is focused narrowly on public confidence in the courts as part of our democracy, the trend line is clear: It is sloping downward toward a real crisis of the federal judiciary, with decisions like Cannon’s nudging us along incrementally," he wrote before warning, "It’s impossible to know what form that might take in the end. But the prospect that the Supreme Court intercedes in the 2022 or 2024 elections — and in so doing shreds what’s left of public confidence in the judiciary — can’t be ruled out."
You can read his whole column here.
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