U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves fiercely criticized President Donald Trump’s attacks on the judiciary in a speech Thursday, likening some of his rebukes to tactics that had been used by the Ku Klux Klan and segregationists.
“We are now eyewitnesses to the third great assault on our judiciary,” Reeves said, according to a copy of the speech obtained by BuzzFeed News. Reeves, who is a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, delivered the speech Thursday at his alma mater, the University of Virginia School of Law, after being awarded its Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law.
“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,” said Reeves, quoting Trump’s repeated criticisms of judges and the courts. (The speech’s footnotes cite the president’s tweets, speeches and more.)
“When the powerful accuse courts of ‘open[ing] up our country to potential terrorists,’ you can hear the Southern Manifesto’s authors, smearing the judiciary for simply upholding the rights of black folk,” Reeves went on, referring to a 1956 manifesto by Southern congressmen rebuking the Supreme Court’s 1954 landmark anti-segregation ruling, Brown v. Board of Education.
“When lawmakers say ‘we should get rid of judges,’ you can hear segregationist Senators, writing bills to strip courts of their power. And 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,” he added, referring to the pro-segregation Alabama governor elected in 1962.
Such pointed criticism of the president is unusual from sitting judges, who tend to abide by a judicial ethics code of impartiality. Reeves has used strong language in judicial opinions before, notably in blocking a 15-week abortion ban in his state last year.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg faced backlash, and eventually had to apologize, in 2016 for criticizing then-candidate Trump.
In his speech, Reeves also skewered the lack of diversity among Trump’s judicial nominees ― as the vast majority of those confirmed have been white men.
“Think: In a country where they make up just 30% of the population, non-Hispanic white men make up nearly 70% of this Administration’s confirmed judicial appointees,” said Reeves, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama. “That’s not what America looks like. That’s not even what the legal profession looks like.”
“There is no excuse for this exclusion of minority experiences from our courts,” he added.
The Trump administration has faced myriad legal challenges to its policies. Trump’s travel ban targeting largely Muslim-majority countries was blocked several times by the courts before its third iteration was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court. Trump’s February declaration of a national emergency to fund a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border was met by lawsuits from more than 20 states and an upcoming suit from House Democrats.
“Each of us has a role to play in defending our judiciary,” Reeves said in his speech. “Judges, politicians and citizens alike must denounce attacks that undermine our ability to do justice.
“It is not enough for judges, seeing race-based attacks on their brethren, to say they are merely ‘disheartened,’ or to simply affirm their non-partisan status,” he added. “We must do more to defend our bench.”
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