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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

December 27, 2017: Reviewing Resistance: Judges

[Whether we like it or not—and it likely goes without saying that I don’t—2017 has been defined by Donald Trump. So for this year in review series, I wanted to AmericanStudy five forms of resistance to all things Trump. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the year, Trumptastic or otherwise, in comments!]
On one of the worst parts of Trump’s first year, and an ironic but crucial counterpoint.
Although there are so many awful stories every day at the moment that it’s nearly impossible to decide which ones deserve particular attention and outrage, some of the most horrendous headlines in recent weeks have featured strikingly unqualified and/or stunningly inappropriate Trump nominees to judicial positions. Moreover, one of Trump’s few definite accomplishments in this first year has been the successful nomination of a new, already highly controversial Supreme Court Justice, Neil Gorsuch; and that appointment was made possible by an even more horrendous and unprecedented political action, the year-long stonewalling of Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland by the entire Congressional GOP. Gorsuch’s life tenure on the Supreme Court reflects just how much such federal justices can and likely will be Trump’s most enduring legacy (at least on the American political and legal landscape), and so to see such consistently unqualified and extreme figures nominated in such unprecedented and inappropriate ways to these vital positions has been one of this year’s most frustrating trends for all concerned AmericanStudiers.
Yet at the same time, one of the most consistently inspiring forms of resistance to Trump’s policies and agenda has likewise involved federal judges. Time and again, such judges have ruled to stop and/or overturn Trump’s most extreme and controversial proposals; this has happened most consistently with the many different iterations of the Muslim immigration/travel ban, but has also been the case with Trump’s attempts to deny federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities and his proposal to allow corporations to exclude contraception coverage from their health insurance plans, among other instances. While of course Trump has frequently attempted to blame these judicial decisions on similar kinds of political and/or personal perspectives to those he attributed (with extreme racism) during his presidential campaign to a judge of Mexican ancestry, the truth is quite the opposite: these judges are working to uphold America’s Constitution and its status (sometimes idealized, to be sure, but nonetheless always present from the founding on) as a nation of laws, in the face of an administration that seems determined to ignore or even actively counter such legal and political histories.
As I highlighted in this March post, however, some of the parallels between Trump and his favorite historical president, Andrew Jackson, remind us of how fragile such judicial decisions have at times been in our histories. Granted, there were far fewer means of raising awareness and protest when Jackson blatantly ignored the Marshall Court’s ruling on Indian Removal than there are today (when Trump bizarrely Tweeted “See you in court!” after a similarly challenging such ruling), and so the hope would be that any parallel presidential overstepping of the law today would be met with far more of a serious challenge than was Jackson’s refusal to abide by the court’s verdict. Yet the simple truth is that our political system is not necessarily built to withstand the machinations of a wannabe dictator hell-bent on circumventing the legal and political norms and precedents, and I would argue that Jackson and Trump have been two of the most (if not indeed the two most) dictatorial of our forty-five presidents to date. Hopefully the courts will continue to offer resistance to Trump in 2018—but I believe it’ll be equally important for us to support their efforts to do so.
Next review tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other 2017 stories you’d highlight?

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