“President Donald Trump’s travel ban has triggered an unusually caustic public spat among the judges of the federal appeals court that first took up the issue.
The disagreement began to play out publicly Wednesday when five 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judges publicly recorded their disagreement with a decision three of their colleagues issued last month refusing to allow Trump to reinstate the first version of his travel ban executive order.
The fight escalated dramatically on Friday with the five Republican-appointed judges filing another withering attack on the earlier opinion and two liberal judges accusing their conservative colleagues of trying to make an end-run around the traditional judicial process.
In the new opinion, Judge Alex Kozinski blasted the earlier ruling for essentially ignoring the fact that most of those affected by Trump’s initial travel ban have no constitutional rights.
“This St. Bernard is being wagged by a flea on its tail,” Kozinski wrote, joined by Judges Carlos Bea, Jay Bybee, Sandra Ikuta and Consuelo Callahan.
Kozinski’s opinion harshly criticized the earlier 9th Circuit decision for blessing the idea that courts could take account of Trump’s campaign-trail statements vowing to implement a Muslim ban.
“My colleagues err by failing to vacate this hasty opinion. The panel’s unnecessary statements on this subject will shape litigation near and far. We’ll quest aimlessly for true intentions across a sea of insults and hyperbole. It will be (as it were) a huge, total disaster,” Kozinski said, in an an apparent tip of the hat to Trump’s bombast.
That didn’t sit well with Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who accused his colleagues of trying to affect the ongoing litigation over Trump’s redrafted executive order.
“Judge Kozinski’s diatribe, filed today, confirms that a small group of judges, having failed in their effort to undo this court’s decision with respect to President Trump’s first Executive Order, now seek on their own, under the guise of a dissent from the denial of en banc rehearing of an order of voluntary dismissal, to decide the constitutionality of a second Executive Order that is not before this court,” wrote Reinhardt, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter. “That is hardly the way the judiciary functions. Peculiar indeed!”
Another liberal 9th Circuit judge, Marsha Berzon, weighed in Friday with a more restrained rejection of her colleagues’ efforts to undermine the earlier ruling.
“Judges are empowered to decide issues properly before them, not to express their personal views on legal questions no one has asked them. There is no appeal currently before us, and so no stay motion pending that appeal currently before us either,” wrote Berzon, an appointee of President Bill Clinton. “All the merits commentary in the dissents filed by a small minority of the judges of this court is entirely out of place.”
“My dissenting colleagues should not be engaging in a one-sided attack on a decision by a duly constituted panel of this court,” Berzon added. “We will have this discussion, or one like it. But not now.”
Kozinski responded by accusing his liberal colleagues of trying to silence the court’s public debate on the issue.”
“My colleagues’ effort to muzzle criticism of an egregiously wrong panel opinion betrays their insecurity about the opinion’s legal analysis,” wrote Kozinski, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan.”
Here’s the link to Gerstein’s article:
And, here is the link to the court’s order containing all of the opinions, so you can judge for yourself:
Meanwhile, the WSJ Editorial Board channeled a little of the late Justice Antonin Scalia:
“The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once wished aloud that all federal judges be issued a stamp that said “Stupid but Constitutional.” Such a stamp would have been useful this week to the two federal judges who bounced President Trump’s revised travel ban that suspends immigration from six Muslim-majority countries that the Administration says pose particular terror risks.
Our view is that the ban is lousy policy, and any urgency that Mr. Trump’s first-week executive order once had is gone. But after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the original version, the White House went back to the drafting board and tailored the new order to address the court’s objections. The President has vast discretion over immigration, and the do-over is grounded both in statute and core presidential powers, which is when the Supreme Court’s Youngstown decision teaches that a President’s authority to act is strongest.”
Read the complete editorial here:
On today’s editorial page, the Washington Post made much the same point, if only a little less emphatically with respect to the Administration’s legal position:
“THE SPEED and enthusiasm with which two federal courts halted President Trump’s latest travel executive order might suggest that the revised policy is as obviously problematic as the last, which was a sloppy rush job that the government poorly defended in court. In fact, the revised policy, while still more likely to harm than help national security, is legally far more defensible. Decades of precedent instruct judges to defer to the executive branch on immigration and national security matters such as this. It should surprise no one if the Supreme Court eventually allows the Trump administration to proceed.”
Read the complete Post editorial here:
Finally, CNN Legal Analyst Danny Cevallos makes many of the same points that Nolan Rappaport has made in his articles in The Hill in predicting that the Administration legally has a winner if they are ever able to get this issue to the Supremes:
“The president is in charge of immigration. Immigration policy, by its very definition, is a form of discrimination. The only truly nondiscriminatory immigration policy would be: Everyone come in, whenever you want. Anything short of that is discrimination in some form, and it’s generally within the president’s province. This is not some village rezoning policy. This is national immigration policy, and it’s different than any of the other Establishment Clause cases.
If courts can look into this particular President’s prior statements when considering the constitutionality of his actions, then every single executive action is potentially vulnerable. A gender-neutral executive order could be challenged as discriminatory against women. After all, this is the candidate who believes women can just be grabbed by the …, well, you know. A presidential action that is disability-neutral could be challenged on the basis that the candidate mocked a disabled reporter.
While the court in Hawaii cited established Supreme Court precedent in finding a probable Establishment Clause violation, the appellate courts could still find that Trump’s executive authority prevails. Yes, the district court cited some controlling authority, but an appellate court could distinguish those cases from the unique case before it — one that pits constitutional executive power head-to-head with the First Amendment.”
Read the full Cevallos analysis here:
Then, read Nolan’s previous articles from The Hill or as reposted on this blog.
Overall, I think it is a good thing when there is some spirited dissent and disagreement among members of a collegial court like the 9th Circuit. It shows that the Judges are engaged and that they care about the issues, as they should. Also, dissent is often directed at other courts (like the Supreme Court), at Congress, the Executive, or at educating the media and the public at large about important legal issues. Without dissent and the resulting dialogue it often provokes, you would have “a room full of people patting each other on the back.” And, what’s the purpose of a “deliberative” collegial court that doesn’t “deliberate?”