A federal trial judge delivered a stunning rebuke of President Donald Trump on Thursday, comparing the president’s “assault on our judiciary” to the Ku Klux Klan and segregationist Dixiecrat George Wallace.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Wayne Reeves of the federal trial court in southern Mississippi launched those broadsides during remarks at University of Virginia Law School, where he was accepting the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal.
“When politicians attack courts as ‘dangerous,’ ‘political,’ and guilty of ‘egregious overreach,’ you can hear the Klan’s lawyers, assailing officers of the court across the South,” Reeves said.
“When the executive branch calls our courts and their work ‘stupid,’ ‘horrible,’ ‘ridiculous,’ ‘incompetent,’ ‘a laughingstock,’ and a ‘complete and total disgrace,’ you can hear the slurs and threats of executives like George Wallace echoing into the present,” the judge added.
Reeves took particular exception to the president’s remarks respecting Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who presided over a civil fraud action against the now-defunct Trump University.
The president called Curiel “biased” and “a hater,” and suggested that the judge should be conflicted out of the case because of his hawkish immigration positions. Curiel is of Mexican descent.
“I know what I heard when a federal judge was called ‘very biased and unfair’ because he is ‘of Mexican heritage,’” Reeves said. “When that judge’s ethnicity was said to prevent his issuing ‘fair rulings.’ When that judge was called a ‘hater’ simply because he is Latino.”
“I heard the words of James Eastland, a race-baiting politician, empowered by the falsehood of white supremacy, questioning the judicial temperament of a man solely because of the color of his skin,” Reeves continued. “I heard those words, and I did not know if it was 1967 or 2017.”
The speech was a remarkable and perhaps unprecedented political intervention by a sitting federal judge, who is required to remain assiduously nonpartisan.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was widely criticized for referring to Trump as a “faker” during the 2016 presidential campaign. She later apologized for the indiscretion.
Chief Justice John Roberts has previously admonished Trump for his rhetoric about the courts.
The chief justice’s statement came after the president derided a judge who enjoined the administration’s asylum rules.
“What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them,” Roberts said.
“That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”