Chief Justice John Roberts compared a judge’s role to that of an umpire at his 2005 confirmation hearings — 11 years later, he may have called a strike on President-elect Donald Trump.
The chief dedicated part of his annual 2016 year-end report on the state of the judiciary to praising the discipline and integrity of federal district justices. Some legal commentators are wondering if Roberts was taking a veiled shot at the president-elect, who spent the better part of last summer criticizing, without basis, the federal judge presiding over a Trump University fraud trial.
“The men and women across the country who today serve as district judges are generally not well known…but they deserve tremendous respect,” Roberts wrote. “District judges make a difference every day, and leave a lasting legacy, by making our society more fair and just.”
As the summer doldrums of the general election settled in and Trump lawyers incurred a series of setbacks in federal court in advance of the fraud trial, the president-elect spent weeks asserting the presiding judge, Judge Gonzalo Curiel, was biased against him because he is a Mexican. Curiel, though of Mexican heritage, was born in Indiana and is a U.S. citizen. (RELATED: Trump Says Judge Should Recuse Himself Because Of Mexican Heritage)
“I think it has to do with perhaps the fact that I’m very, very strong on the border,” Trump said in a February Fox News interview concerning Judge Curiel. “Now, he is Hispanic, I believe. He is a very hostile judge to me.”
In late May, he argued that the fact he was a building a wall at the U.S. border with Mexico created a conflict of interest for Curiel, given his Mexican heritage. He elsewhere referred to Curiel as “biased,” “a hater,” and “a total disgrace.”
Congress has authorized 673 district court judgeships. There are currently over 100 vacancies on the federal courts, including one at the Supreme Court, which Trump will have the opportunity to fill when he assumes office on Jan. 20.
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