“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic . . .”
So begins the oath of enlistment taken by every member of the U.S. armed forces. What is does it mean to protect the Constitution? What does the Constitution provide us? Justice, first and foremost. The framers’ purpose in structuring our government to ensure justice for all is recited in the opening line of the country’s foundational document: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility . . . do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The framers sought to ensure justice by creating an independent judiciary, composed of federal judges appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Those judges have lifetime tenure, and cannot have their pay reduced or be removed except by way of impeachment. Lifetime tenure and insulation from political pressure were established to ensure judicial impartiality, which was seen as essential to the guarantee of equal justice under the law. The Constitutional promise is that justice is blind, meaning that the rule of law is applied equally to all, regardless of a criminal defendant’s status or stature.
So it was deeply disturbing when Donald Trump again attempted to put his finger on the scale of justice to benefit an old crony. Longtime friend and former Trump advisor Roger Stone - the most recently convicted of Trump’s felonious friends and former campaign aides - was convicted by a jury of his peers of perjury and obstruction of justice, and Justice Department prosecutors recommended a prison sentence of 7 to 9 years. Trump reacted angrily on Twitter, saying the government’s sentencing recommendation was “a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” Less than 12 hours later, the Justice Department revised its sentencing recommendation downward, prompting all four career prosecutors to withdraw from representing the government (one resigned entirely from the DOJ). Attorney General William Barr – whose job is to enforce the rule of law rather than do his boss’s bidding – was believed to have intervened on behalf of Trump. Trump essentially confirmed this when he thanked Barr for “taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought.”
There’s no doubt that Trump recognizes that political pressure has no place in Justice Department decisions on how to apply the law. Years earlier, he tweeted an accusation that President Obama’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch had “made law enforcement decisions for political purposes . . . Totally illegal!” But here he was, getting Mr. Barr to do exactly what he had previously decried as “totally illegal.” Then it got worse.
The following day, Trump tweeted about U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who will sentence Roger Stone:
“Is this the Judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure? How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!” Trump’s tweet was laced with falsities; it ignored the fact that prison officials, not Judge Jackson, had placed convicted felon Paul Manafort in solitary confinement. And Judge Jackson never presided over any criminal case involving Hillary Clinton, because there never was a criminal case against Hillary Clinton. But facts never get in the way of Trump’s demagoguery. Indeed, Trump’s slanderous tweet about Judge Jackson was reminiscent of his attack on the San Diego federal judge who presided over the Trump University fraud case against him. Then, Trump said “they ought to look into that Judge Curiel” because he “happens to be, we believe, Mexican.”
These are attacks on an independent judiciary – a Constitutional cornerstone of American democracy. This is not remotely normal. This is a wannabe dictator working to undermine the rule of law with lies and oblique threats against an independent judiciary. This is creeping totalitarianism, growing more pronounced with each corrosive tweet. As Congressman Bill Pascrell described it, “Direct political interference in our justice system is a hallmark of a banana republic. Despite whatever Trump, William Barr, and their helpers think, the United States is a nation of laws and not an authoritarian’s paradise.” Not yet, anyway.
It’s an honor to live in a military town like Coronado, where brave men and women in uniform work, sacrifice, and risk their lives in order to protect and defend the Constitution. A president attacking our independent judiciary is no friend of the Constitution. Quite the opposite.