The past week has brought a relentless barrage of legal news for former President Donald J. Trump. It was all bad, and some of it came courtesy of the judges he or former Republican President Ronald Reagan had appointed.
Judge Raymond J. Dearie, a Reagan appointee who serves as a special master to review documents the FBI seized during its search of Trump’s Florida home in August, was rightly skeptical of Trump’s legal tactics. Trump’s team and demanded on Tuesday that Trump’s attorneys back up some of Trump’s claims with evidence. Then, the next day, a three-judge appeals court panel with two Trump appointees reversed a previous ruling that had gone wrong in Trump’s path.
The past week has brought a relentless barrage of legal news for former President Donald J. Trump. It was all bad.
The above doesn’t even include the lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James accusing Trump and the Trump Organization of civil fraud. This civil case threatens to undermine the fairy tale that Trump is a successful businessman worthy of our trust as the leader of the free world. The criminal investigation into how documents the Justice Department deems sensitive ended up at Trump’s Florida home could threaten the freedom of anyone involved. And Americans aren’t wrong to worry about how Trump might pile up the justice system.
But the rulings on the FBI’s search for Mar-a-Lago show there’s something about Chief Justice John Roberts’ statement: “We don’t have Obama judges or Trump judges, judges Bush or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges who do their best to do an equal right to those who appear before them. Roberts made the statement in 2018, in response to an angry Trump dismissing a ruling against his administration as coming from a “Judge Obama.”
Reader, I hear you from here. You’re yelling at me that my argument is rubbish (only you won’t use that word) and all we have to do is watch the Supreme Court to see how Republican-appointed federal judges have shaped , often for the worse, our country. Remember, you say, when women had a constitutionally protected right to get an abortion? I remember that, and I agree that thanks in part to the three Supreme Court justices appointed by Trump, that right no longer exists.
But it’s also true that Republican-appointed federal judges don’t always govern in ways that give Republican politicians political victories. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Trump and his supporters filed baseless lawsuits across the country. They were evenly dismissed by judges of both political stripes.
At the 11th United States Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, a three-judge panel, consisting of two Trump appointees and one Obama appointee, handed Trump a significant legal setback. The three judges unanimously applauded a grossly flawed opinion written by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, who ruled the Justice Department should suspend its review of classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago. The three appeals judges concluded that, contrary to Cannon’s decision, the DOJ could continue to use the documents marked as classified that were found at Trump’s home and that the special master did not need to review these documents. documents.
Trump’s legal team had fared no better on Tuesday, the day before, in Dearie’s first hearing as special counsel. It was Trump, of course, who had a special master review the documents for attorney-client confidentiality issues (which the Justice Department screening team had already done) and privilege issues. executive (which cannot legally exist in this scenario). Trump offered two names of people to serve in the role of special petty officer, and the DOJ accepted Dearie. But given Dearie’s impartiality so far, Trump and his team may regret asking for a special master.
Again, Dearie held his hearing the day before the 11th Circuit denied Trump access to documents the FBI obtained at Mar-a-Lago that were marked as classified and allowed the DOJ to continue to use those documents in his investigation.
Out of court, Trump claimed he was in possession of many of the documents the FBI found because he declassified them. But in court filings, Trump’s team was careful to say only Trump had the power to declassify documents, not that he actually downgraded the documents. In court in Dearie on Tuesday, Trump’s legal team refused to provide any evidence that Trump had declassified any of those documents. This prompted Dearie’s now-viral comment, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
Of course, even if Trump were to declassify these documents, it would not necessarily save him from criminal liability should the Justice Department pursue charges against him. Some documents must be properly stored and handled, even if they have been declassified.
Dearie’s order can best be described as a “set up or shut up” moment for Trump and his team.
Out of court, that is to say without oath, Trump claimed that the FBI may have hidden the documents left at his home. Dearie ordered Trump’s legal team to state in a court filing, that is, under penalty of perjury, whether the legal team believes FBI agents lied on documents obtained from Mar-a. -The girlfriend. Dearie’s order can best be described as a “set up or shut up” moment for Trump and his team.
It’s hard to gauge what legal news was worse for Trump last week. But a big takeaway is that contrary to how Trump might have expected them to behave, the judges he or other Republicans have appointed aren’t rushing to take his side. Instead, in two different courtrooms, Republican-appointed judges dealt Trump major legal setbacks. The 11th Circuit corrected part of Cannon’s erroneous court ruling and allowed the DOJ to use the documents marked as classified in its investigation. Dearie vigorously questioned Trump’s legal team and handled the case fairly. They are judges who respect the rule of law. Given Trump’s frivolous claims, it’s bad for him.
Let’s face it. Sometimes it matters whether or not a judge was appointed by a Republican president or a Democratic president. And our suspicions about the judges as partisan actors are validated. But not always, and not in all cases. Last week was a good reminder of that fact.
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