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This Is What The Rule Of Law Looks Like

EDITORIAL, The New York Times





The most reassuring sound in these rancorous early days of the Trump administration of the United States of America was the legal debate, at times arcane, over the president’s travel ban during live-streamed oral arguments in a federal appeals court on Tuesday, February 7, 2017.

No gratuitous insults, no personal threats or childish tantrum -- only judges and lawyers debating complex legal issues with respect and restraint. It was the sound of grown-ups taking responsibility for governing the country, and for people’s lives.

Contrast that with the unfiltered outbursts Americans have endured from President Trump in the chaotic days since he signed his slapdash order suspending entry for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, and all refugees.

Mr. Trump’s attacks on judges who questioned his order were too much even for his nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch of the federal appeals court in Denver. Judge Gorsuch called the comments “demoralizing” and “disheartening,” according to a senator with whom he met on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

Mr. Trump -- who has a toddler’s aversion to the word “no” -- berated a federal judge who temporarily blocked the order last week, calling him a “so-called” judge on Twitter. He then warned that the judge, and the entire court system, could be responsible for any future terrorist attacks that might occur.

The three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco, appeared skeptical of the administration’s argument on Tuesday that the executive order is essentially unreviewable.

It has yet not issued a ruling, but that didn’t stop Mr. Trump, who wrote early Wednesday morning on Twitter, “If the U.S. does not win this case as it so obviously should, we can never have the security and safety to which we are entitled. Politics!”

In a speech to law-enforcement officials a few hours later, he called the hearing “disgraceful,” complained that the courts are “so political” and said that “if these judges wanted to, in my opinion, help the court in terms of respect for the court, they’d do what they should be doing.”

In fact, the judges did exactly as they should, aggressively questioning both sides and demanding evidence to back up assertions -- a much quicker and more reliable path to the truth than Twitter. At one point, Judge William Canby Jr. asked August Flentje, the Justice Department lawyer defending the order, which was apparently prepared with no advice from legal or national security officials, “How many federal offenses have we had being committed by people that came in with visas from these countries?”

Mr. Flentje declined to answer, saying that the litigation was moving very fast. He then referred to “a number of people from Somalia” who had been convicted of terrorist crimes in the United States, but said that the government had not included any of these cases in the record.

For stretches of the hour long argument, the judges and lawyers waded deep into the case’s various procedural technicalities -- not material that would usually appeal to a wide audience. But that is the majestic routine of the law: applying well-established precedents and principles to decide cases in the present and provide some assurance of predictability for the future. It may not carry the adrenaline hit of a tweet, but it has kept the country relatively stable and peaceful for most of its history.

Mr. Trump appears as uninterested in this as he is in so much else about the democratic process. He complained on Wednesday about the pace of the legal debate on the travel ban, which is not even two weeks old, saying it is “really incredible” that it is “going on so long.”

The president continues to demean his office in 140-character increments, firing off nasty and reflexive broadsides at anyone who doesn’t agree completely with him. Meanwhile, on Tuesday afternoon, the tedious, necessary work of a branch of government Mr. Trump sometimes seems to wish did not exist reminded the country what government based on the rule of law looks like.

[Courtesy: The New York Times]
February 9, 2017



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