On June 26, the Supreme Court announced its decision in the combined cases of Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project and Trump v. Hawaii, which involved challenges to Executive Order 13780. This order concerns the entry of foreign nationals into the United States, and is best known for suspending entry of nationals from six designated countries for 90 days.
The defendants challenged the order in two separate lawsuits, obtaining preliminary injunctions barring enforcement of several of its provisions, including the 90-day suspension of entry. The injunctions were upheld in large measure by the Courts of Appeals in the Fourth and Ninth Circuits. The Justices decided by a 9-0 vote that the defendants in both cases lack standing and that the injunctions against the 90-day suspension are partially removed, allowing the ban to take effect against “foreign nationals who do not have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”
Supporters of President Trump’s travel ban were predictably elated by the decision, even though the cases will not be heard in full until the next Supreme Court session in October. Detractors of Trump’s immigration policies were disappointed, calling it discriminatory, hateful, and Islamophobic. But there is a greater concern than public opinion of the preliminary ruling or the eventual outcome of the case. Regardless of this result or the next, Trump has largely squandered an opportunity to act against a much greater problem: that of judicial activism.
The Past Is Prologue
The judicial branch in the United States has a long history of overstepping its constitutional role. In Marbury v. Madison (1803), the Court invented for itself the power of judicial review, which is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. Because Congress and the state legislatures did not act to reverse this usurpation of power, it remains the statement of ultimate sovereignty in American law. Since Marbury, Supreme Court decisions usually have been the final say in a dispute, unless a Constitutional amendment or future Supreme Court reverses a decision. Furthermore, the Supreme Court regularly issues writs commanding action or inaction from the legislative and executive branches. In various decisions that “find” new rights imbedded within the Constitution and/or determine the winners and losers in society, the Court acts as a political branch of government that masquerades as an impartial arbiter. This is to be expected, as the judicial branch is not truly independent, being part of the same state apparatus of the other branches and thus subject to many of the same perverse incentives. The end result is judicial activism, in which the courts are used to advance a progressive socioeconomic agenda.
Three Presidents stand out in American history for their ability to defy the will of the courts and advance their agendas despite judicial opposition: Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. These administrations shared several characteristics; all had a strong executive, an agenda at odds with previous administrations, majorities in both houses of Congress to assist them, an appeal to the common man, flawed and/or weak political candidates opposing them, and were on the left side of the politics of their day. Interestingly, historians look upon these three Presidents as being among the best. The Trump administration has almost all of these characteristics, lacking perhaps the leftism and Congressional assistance that the others had.
If Trump wins the broader case in the next Supreme Court session, it will be a small victory for him and for those who seek stricter immigration standards. If he loses and accepts the result, then he is the next Ronald Reagan, who talked the talk but generally failed to walk the walk. But if he had ignored the injunctions from the US District Courts and the Fourth and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals, it could have been a decisive victory. Andrew Jackson apocryphally said when the Supreme Court ruled against his policies in Worcester v. Georgia (1832), “[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” Trump would have done well to say something similar and act upon it when faced with the lower court rulings. He may still do so with the Supreme Court if it rules against him, but much of the effect will have been lost in the passive approach.
The response from the establishment to such an act of defiance by a maverick President would be swift and terrible. Democrats in Congress would unite in a call for impeachment, arguing that the President is acting like a totalitarian despot and is in contempt of court, a “high crime or misdemeanor” in Constitutional terms. The establishment press would devote all of their airtime to attacking him and accusing him of causing a constitutional crisis, to the exclusion of covering other important news stories. Academia and leftist organizations would likewise sound the alarm, using Trump’s conduct as both a funding opportunity and a casus belli for street violence. Let us consider the likely reponses to these developments by Trump and Congressional Republicans, as well as how the left’s response would help the cause of liberty.
A call for impeachment by all Democrats would show the American people just how little respect the coastal elites have for the heartland of America, as they would be seeking to overturn the election of the first President in decades who was elected by them to represent their long-forgotten interests. The support, ambivalence, or opposition to the call for impeachment from each Republican in Congress would give the American people important information about where each member stands. Trump, for his part, could respond by declassifying documents in order to release the skeletons in the closet of every member of Congress who opposes him. He could also hold political rallies to gather his supporters and mobilize them against his opponents. Finally, he could remind people that immigration enforcement is an executive function rather than a judicial function and make a separation of powers argument for ignoring the courts. Regardless of what happens to Trump, he could make the 2018 midterms a nightmare scenario for the GOP if they would oppose him as well. This would potentially help the cause of liberty by removing ineffective opposition to the Democratic Party.
A exclusive focus on attacking Trump by the establishment media would only hasten their demise, as he has routinely defeated them by correctly portraying them as enemies of the people and successfully turning their “fake news” phrase against them. Their credibility is at an all-time low and many people trust Trump more than them, meaning that a large segment of the population would not believe them even if what they say about Trump is true. The accusation of causing a constitutional crisis would be true, but such an action is necessary at this point to begin tackling the problem of over two centuries of rule by judges. The corresponding lack of coverage of other news stories coupled with the one-note chorus of the establishment media would work wonders for alternative media firms. Leftist academia would react in much the same manner as the media, which would provide a pretext to defund them, reduce government involvement in student loans, and encourage alternative career paths which do not require university degrees.
Leftist organizations would be unable to pass up the fundraising opportunity that a battle between Trump and the political establishment at the level of President versus Supreme Court would provide for them, and this could be used against them. Many of these organizations routinely overstep the bounds within which they are supposed to operate, especially for the purpose of maintaining tax-exempt status. Strictly enforcing tax laws against them would be a politically popular response which they could not argue against without undermining their stated political positions. Left-wing activists are no strangers to hypocrisy, but the extent of their exposure in recent years is a novel development. Using the IRS and DOJ against left-wing organizations would be a rare use of such powers to defend liberty.
The more radical leftists would join the communist terror group Antifa in the streets, calling Trump’s defiance of the courts the act of a lawless regime and responding with their own lawlessness by attacking innocent people and destroying property. But Antifa has already been found wanting as soon as counter-demonstrators showed up to confront them, and another surge on their part will likely be met by more anti-leftist mobilization of both police and private defense organizations. Violent suppression of the radical left would ensue, which is a necessary prerequisite for a stable social order. Meanwhile, Trump would be able to use such events to portray himself as the sane man against insane opponents.
Should such a move lead to Trump’s impeachment and removal, the American people would be sent a clear message that even a moderate change of course will not be allowed to take place by working within the political system. Thus, solving longstanding problems and moving toward a condition of liberty requires anti-political methods. The ruling class is almost certainly aware of where this strategic line ultimately leads them, so they are not likely to actually remove Trump from office. On a less extreme level, removing Trump would presently require the cooperation of at least 96 House Republicans and 19 Senate Republicans. This would endanger many of those members in their re-election bids, especially if Trump took an active role in funding and campaigning for their primary challengers. Finally, an impeachment effort that proceeds and fails at this point would cause the Democrats to lose even more political status, perhaps even making them a long-term minor party.
The greatest difficulty in determining the aftermath of Trump ignoring the courts is that enforcement agents within the relevant agencies may or may not side with him. The police response to incidents between Antifa and the alt-right indicate a potential conflict between rank-and-file enforcement agents and their commanders, which Trump could resolve in his favor in many cases by removing and replacing key subordinates in the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. The most dangerous possibility is for a federal judge to have the US Marshals enforce an order against armed agents of ICE or another federal agency involved with homeland security, but the state physically attacking itself is a win for liberty. However, this is an unlikely result because everyone involved has an interest in preventing it.
The most likely outcome would be what happened in Australia when Prime Minister Tony Abbott faced similar circumstances. With a popular mandate to stop an influx of migrants after his predecessor attempted to do so and was overruled by the courts, Abbott stopped the migrants and ignored the courts when they attempted to overrule him. The judges backed down and the precedent that the executive gets to make decisions within the purview of the executive branch was set. American courts would likely react to Trump in a similar fashion, as the aforementioned escalation to one type of armed federal agent confronting another would be more damaging to the court’s prestige than retreating to the proper scope of the judicial branch.
Ignoring a federal court order is a dangerous proposition, but doing so has the potential to begin solving a larger and more pervasive problem than the current immigration situation. Judicial activism is responsible for much of the degeneracy in American culture and politics, including the immigration situation. Countering this is an ultimate imperative for those who would restore liberty. Though the travel ban is not a particularly libertarian undertaking in and of itself, the particular course of action recommended here is because of its wider implications.