Trump’s dangerous threats against judicial independence
His travel ban on Muslims from seven nations is clearly discriminatory and yet he rails against judges who have ordered temporary halt to his executive order
The judicial derailing of US President Donald Trump’s travel ban on people from seven majority-Muslim countries will, at least temporarily, ease the heartbreak and chaos it has caused. The ban, imposed by executive order last month, hit tens of thousands of visa holders who were blocked from entering the United States or detained after their arrival. It split families, disrupted business trips and kept university students from their studies. The bold move by US courts to block the ban, at least until the legal validity of it has been fully explored, is a victory for basic human decency and common sense.
But the significance of the rulings goes much further. It is a timely reminder of the crucial role played by an independent judiciary in ensuring a government acts within the law. The travel ban discriminates against Muslims and, at least potentially, breaches the US Constitution. It must be subjected to judicial scrutiny. And yet Trump argues the courts do not even have the power to review it. He is seeking to put himself above the law. The president’s justification is that people from the countries concerned pose a terrorist threat to the US. Clearly, governments have a responsibility to keep their people safe and to protect them from terrorism. But the measures taken to combat the threat must be reasonable and legal. This ban does not distinguish between terror suspects and others. The federal appeals court was right to find that the terror threat claim must be backed up by evidence. The court’s decision only imposes a temporary halting of the ban. This is to allow time for the legal process to take its course . Hopefully, the president will show more respect for the judges as the legal drama plays out. He described a judge responsible for the initial blocking of the ban as “a so-called judge” and has suggested the courts will be to blame if there is another terror attack on the US. Such remarks serve to undermine the judiciary and are not justified.
The judicial intervention in the US follows the controversial rulings by British judges on the nation’s exit from the European Union. Appeal court judges were branded enemies of the people in some British newspapers for finding that approval from parliament was needed for Brexit following a referendum in favour of the move. Court rulings are often inconvenient for governments. They get in the way of their plans. But judicial independence is there to ensure our rulers follow the law and don’t abuse their powers. It is a principle with relevance around the world and it is needed as much today as it has ever been.