News Release

Comprehensive NACDL Statement on President Trump’s Relentless Attacks on the Judiciary and the Judicial Process.

Washington, DC (Feb. 26, 2020) – U.S. President Donald Trump has engaged in a pattern of relentless, escalating, and unprecedented attacks on the judiciary, judicial independence, and the judicial process itself. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), the nation’s criminal defense bar, and its members are duty-bound to the U.S. Constitution which established a separation of powers, with three co-equal branches of government, a system of checks and balances, and the defense function itself. NACDL decries government abuse and any attempt to corrupt the very rule of law enshrined in that foundational document, which is protected by the integrity and independence of the American judiciary.

As cataloged by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and others, Trump’s very public assaults on the judicial branch and process include, but are not limited to:

  • Accusations of bias against U.S. District Judge Gonzalo O. Curiel on the basis of Judge Curiel’s “Mexican heritage."
  • Claims that adverse federal court rulings are illegitimate because those courts’ judges, per the U.S. Constitution, are appointed not elected.
  • Claims that adverse federal court rulings are illegitimate and “a disgrace” based upon the identity of the U.S. President who appointed the judge(s) who issued the ruling, prompting U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to publicly respond that the U.S. doesn’t have “Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them…. The independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”
  • “[A] series of tweets and public statements attacking the deciding judges personally, questioning the authority of federal courts to review his orders, suggesting the court is biased, and suggesting that the judges and court system would be to blame for future terrorist attacks,” calling U.S. courts a “joke” and a “laughingstock.”
  • Weighing in concerning ongoing criminal investigations of his associates and allies, accusing the courts of being “misled” by the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation as part of a “scam” and a “witch hunt.”
  • Bullying and impugning the integrity and independence of U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the judge presiding over the trial of Trump associate Roger Stone and who presided over the cases of former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates.
  • Intimidating and harassing jurors in criminal proceedings involving his associate Roger Stone, attacking the jury forewoman on multiple occasions, alleging that “there has rarely been a juror so tainted as the [jury] forewoman” in that case.
  • Attacking two female Supreme Court Justices, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, calling for their wholesale recusal from all "Trump related" matters both on Twitter and at a news conference in a foreign nation.

NACDL President Nina J. Ginsberg said: “President Trump’s attacks on the judiciary should alarm every American. With an audience of more than 70 million people on Twitter and ready access to global media, President Trump’s relentless, escalating, and unprecedented assault on the legitimacy of the judicial branch of the U.S. government, its judges, its jurors, and indeed the judicial process itself, must be understood for precisely what it is. And we in the bar must unambiguously call it out at whatever price, for it is nothing less than an ongoing, frontal attack on the rule of law in America. The Rules of Professional Conduct that govern lawyers reinforce the special responsibility of all members of the legal profession to uphold our system of justice. The criminal defense bar will not tolerate attacks on the core institutions in the criminal justice system that were created to protect the individual from this type of overreach by the executive branch. While such attacks have a particularly corrosive impact in the context of a criminal case where liberty is at stake, all litigants in American courts must be confident that the process is independent and free from such undue influence and interference. Indeed, as someone who has spent much of his career as a litigant in the courts of this nation, President Trump should be among the first to recognize how inappropriate it is for a political official, no less the president, to seek to improperly interfere in and influence the judicial process by attacking jurors and judges.”

NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer said: “It is entirely inappropriate and dangerous to the rule of law for President Trump to attack U.S. Supreme Court Justices, which he did both on Twitter and at a news conference in a foreign nation. The ability of Supreme Court Justices, and all judges in the United States, to express the basis for their judicial opinions is not only essential to democracy, but it provides precisely the kind of transparency that has been suppressed by the executive branch. Indeed, the prerogative of judges to explain their rationale is perhaps the last bastion of honest discourse in the country. An attack on the independence of the judiciary is an attack on the beating heart of American democracy and rule of law.”

NACDL Ethics Advisory Committee Co-Chair Ellen Yaroshefsky said: “The Constitution with which our nation is blessed provides the very structure of our legal and political order. And underlying our judicial system is a fundamental and bedrock respect for the rule of law. These norms were established hundreds of years ago, including as reflected in the Marbury v. Madison decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court wisely held that it had the power to pronounce the law. Improper executive encroachment upon the independence of the judiciary, in individual cases or otherwise, as embodied in the multi-year pattern of judicial assault and abuse by President Trump, is patently anathema to ordered liberty and utterly corrosive to democracy and the rule of law. Indeed, it is the framework of the separation of powers itself, set forth in the Constitution, that is our leading safeguard against tyranny and dictatorship. Federalist Paper No. 47, authored by James Madison, was clear that ‘The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.’ There are many roads to such a tyrannical consolidation of power, and a necessary and sufficient condition to achieve that end is the destruction of the rule of law achieved by undermining the judiciary, its independence, and the judicial process itself. We must never allow that to happen. Ever.”

NACDL President Nina J. Ginsberg added, “We call upon all members of the profession, irrespective of political affiliation or ideology, to defend the independence of the judiciary.”

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Contacts

Ivan Dominguez, NACDL Senior Director of Public Affairs and Communications, (202) 465-7662 or idominguez@nacdl.org

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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