Two recent court rulings in the US have caught my attention. Here’s the first:
A federal judge has blocked President Trump from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, saying the administration’s justification was not “legally adequate.” Under DACA, which Barack Obama created via executive order, young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children can apply for legal protections.
The judge in Tuesday’s ruling called Trump’s DACA decision “arbitrary and capricious,” and noted that while the administration had claimed that DACA’s implementation by Obama was unconstitutional, Trump’s tweets about revisiting DACA suggested that he thought the president was well within his right to use executive authority this way.
What the judge is effectively saying is that Barack Obama was quite within his rights to implement the DACA program via executive authority, but Donald Trump is not permitted to allow the program to expire using that same executive authority.
Many people, myself included, thought Obama’s use of executive orders to bypass congress set a dangerous precedent, because future holders of the office may not be quite so benign (as if Obama was). Happily, certain judges in the USA have found a solution to this problem by only granting executive authority to presidents they approve of.
This isn’t the first time a judge has blocked Trump on DACA. In January, a federal judge in California ordered the Trump administration to again start accepting DACA renewal applications. Tuesday’s ruling goes farther, saying that the Trump administration must start processing new DACA applications.
This is not ruling on matters of law, this is blatant political sabotage. Note the judge’s references to Trump’s tweet. Since when has the personal opinion of the president been a factor in whether the actions of his predecessor were legal or not? The judge has passed this ruling as a matter of personal preference, confident he will have the backing of millions of people, the law be damned.
Here’s the second ruling:
On Monday, a New York judge awarded $6.7 million to graffiti artists who sued the owner of buildings they defaced because he tore down the buildings.
Federal Judge Frederic Block ruled against Long Island developer Jerry Wolkoff, who had permitted the “artwork” on his property, known as 5Pointz, for decades, stating that Wolkoff was not sorry he had painted over the graffiti in 2013, torn down the buildings in 2014, and begun construction for two 40-story residential apartment buildings in 2015. Block said the penalty he assessed would not have been so exorbitant if Wolkoff had waited for the judge’s permission and demolished the art 10 months later than he did; that would have allowed artists to retrieve their paintings from the buildings.
Apparently graffiti artists have greater rights to a building in New York than the owner.
Block was seemingly impressed with the aerosol artists; in November, during the trial triggered by a lawsuit from the 21 aerosol artists, he gushed abut how works produced by the artists “spoke to the social issues of our times.” He also stated that the “respectful, articulate and credible” artists testified about “striking technical and artistic mastery and vision worthy of display in prominent museums if not on the walls of 5Pointz.”
And there was me thinking judges were appointed to adjudicate on matters of the law, not serve as art critics.
Block said, “Wolkoff has been singularly unrepentant. He was given multiple opportunities to admit the whitewashing was a mistake, show remorse, or suggest he would do things differently if he had another chance. … Wolkoff could care less. As he callously testified.
Why should somebody who has altered his own property, breaking no laws, be repentant?
The sloppy, half-hearted nature of the whitewashing left the works easily visible under thin layers of cheap, white paint, reminding the plaintiffs on a daily basis what had happened. The mutilated works were visible by millions of people on the passing 7 train.”
Apparently the price of paint carries weight in the law. Who knew?
Block also asserted, “The shame of it all is that since 5 Pointz was a prominent tourist attraction, the public would undoubtedly have thronged to say its goodbyes during those 10 months and gaze at the formidable works of aerosol art for the last time. It would have been a wonderful tribute for the artists that they richly deserved.
Okay, that’s enough of that.
In recent times we’ve heard western journalists and politicians express outrage over judges being “replaced” wholesale in places like Russia and Turkey, particularly after they’ve thwarted some nefarious government scheme or other. In many parts of the world, the idea that a judge is some impartial arbitrator of the law and not just some servant of the ruling classes is preposterous (the Russian film Leviathan made this point rather well). This is why the outrage over judges being replaced is often more muted in the country concerned; the people simply view it as another round of shuffling the political pack. But westerners get all hot under the collar because they think judges are above politics, and serve as an an essential restraint on politicians’ actions.
The two rulings I refer to above suggest the USA might be well on its way to becoming more like the third-world than a beacon of law and order. To be honest, this is probably nothing new: the Supreme Court’s decision over gay marriage was a naked display of judges deciding not what the law actually said, but what they thought progressives wanted it to say, something that Antonin Scalia captured rather well in his dissent. We also had the pantomime last year of regional judges declaring Trump’s immigration policies unlawful, using bizarre and unprecedented justifications.
The one thing that prevents American judges being replaced in the manner they are in much of the world is the preservation of the notion that they are disinterested arbiters of the law and not engaged in politics or activism. For whatever reason, some of their number seem rather keen to demonstrate otherwise. I don’t know how deep this runs, but I think we’re already in dangerous waters. If my mythical despot should seize the reins of power, he will likely waste no time sacking judges likes these in large numbers, and a whole load of others to boot. The problem is, the current actions of these so-called judges will make such a move reasonably easy to justify. Wherever this is leading, it won’t end well.