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Trump’s latest personal attacks on judges could further weaken people’s declining trust in the American rule of law


When former President Donald Trump was arraigned in a Manhattan criminal court on April 4, 2023, Judge Juan Merchan warned him to refrain from posting social media posts that can incite violence or “jeopardize the rule of law.”

Hours before his arraignment, Trump reposted a since-deleted photo in which he carried a baseball bat next to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

After Trump pleaded not guilty and was released from custody, he attacked Mercan and the judge’s family during a speech at Mar-a-Lago.

This isn’t the first time Trump has criticized those trying to hold him accountable.

He used to be hard spoke out against Braggthe prosecutor directs the criminal case against him, calling him “corrupt”.and a “radical left Soros-backed prosecutor.”

And he has targeted merchandiseclaiming that the judge “hate” the former president and that he “armed” one of Trump’s associates to take a plea deal.

Trump has also questioned the integrity of the US legal system himself, writing that it is “impossible” for him receive a fair trial in New York City, presumably because the city’s population is heavily democratic.

We are scholars of the president and US courts. In our 2019 book, “The President and the Supreme Court: Disclosure of Court Decisions from Washington to Trump”, we studied how presidents talk about lawsuits in their public statements.

We found that presidents rarely criticize court decisions. And when they do, they tend to respectfully object to the decisions of courts rather than try to undermine their legitimacy or attack individual judges.

However, Trump is not known to follow and does not adhere to standards.

Here are three things you need to know about how Trump’s words about his criminal charges could undermine the rule of law and confidence in the American justice system.

Former President Donald Trump greets supporters at Mar-a-Lago on April 4, 2023, hours after he pleaded not guilty to 34 felonies.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

1. Trump’s attacks are bad for the rule of law

For a variety of reasons, the language Trump uses to criticize those he considers his legal enemies often has racist or sexist overtones and can undermine confidence in the American justice system.

Indeed, some studies suggests that Trump’s attacks on legal and political institutions could do just that.

For example, research shows that the Supreme Court’s public approval plummeted following Trump’s tweets calling U.S. District Judge James L. Robart a “so-called judge” after he Trump’s travel ban lifted in February 2017.

We think the country is not well placed to absorb further declines support for the rule of law. Americans’ trust in legal institutions has dropped dramatically in recent years due to several complex factors, including controversial ones Supreme Court rulings.

Public disapproval of the Supreme Court is at its highest level ever, with 58% of Americans disapproving of the court as of September 2022. This represents an 18% increase from Americans who disapproved of the court from a decade earlier.

Likewise, people’s trust in the criminal justice system has declined in recent years, with 43% of Americans reporting by 2022 that they have very little confidence in the country’s handling of crime. When former President Barack Obama’s term began in 2009, only 25% of people said the same.

If public support for the rule of law weathers the storm and serves as a check on Trump’s brand of vengeful politics — as it has in the past abuse of presidential power – then American legal institutions will prevail.

But if Trump’s relentless, aggressive attacks convince large segments of the public that he’s being treated unfairly, it could lead them to question all sorts of other legal decisions. The end result may be a further decline in confidence in the rule of law, at least among Trump supporters.

2. These attacks can be dangerous

Physical threats to judges and other court personnel are on the back burner always high.

Part of this increase can be linked to Trump’s time in the White House, if not directly to his behavior. During his presidency, the US Marshals Service reports that inappropriate communications and threats against judges, prosecutors and other protected persons have increased by approximately 50% – from 2,847 in 2017 to 4,261 in 2020.

received Robert a wave of threats after he issued a restraining order against Trump’s travel ban in 2017 and Trump tweeted about Robart. In response to Trump’s public attacks, Robart’s personal information leaked onto the Internet and the judge received more than 100 dead hazards.

3. Trump’s criticism is in a league of its own

When both Republican and Democratic presidents have criticized legal decisions, do not like, they have generally followed a common playbook. Typically, presidents show their respect for the judiciary and the rule of law and explain their disagreements. They do not single out people and resort to personal attacks.

President Bill Clinton, who facing charges for lying to a grand jury in 1998, this playbook followed when he took responsibility for his “personal failure” during a address to the nation, and referred questions about the investigation to his lawyers. While he opposed an independent prosecutor, he never criticized the prosecutor’s legitimacy.

Conversely, Trump regularly violate this standard Through personally attacking individual judges and courts instead of expressing disagreements of principle over their decisions based on a different legal conception.

His penchant for attacking the justice system even predates his presidency.

In 2014, he tweeted that the South African judge in the Oscar Pistorius case “a fool.” Pistorius, an accomplished runner, was found guilty of his girlfriend’s murder.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump used racist language when attacking set up the court to eavesdrop on the Trump University fraud trial. Trump claimed that District Judge Gonzalo Curiel would be biased against him because he was of Mexican descent and Trump planned to build a wall between the US and Mexico.

Given Trump’s long history of vicious personal attacks of this kind against members of the legal community, it seems unlikely that we will see a radically different Trump as he faces criminal charges for the first time in his career.

While this may help Trump raises more money for his presidential campaign, it could cost the country some confidence in the rule of law, while endangering legal officials.

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