If you’re on the political right, you know what you have to gain from President Trump. Given his actions on Rod Blagojevich, Michael Milken, Bernard Kerik and others yesterday, it’s important that you also consider what you have to lose.
After decades, President Trump has given you a real chance to remake the courts to reflect conservative values. I understand your passion.
If your life’s purpose is to protect life starting at conception and you see overturning the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade as the single moral issue of our time, I understand why you might inch toward the legal brink for a shot at that brass ring.
The problem is that in pursuit of that dream you’re standing by while Trump dismantles the legal system.
The Trump administration is busy appointing conservative judges in the lower courts. If Trump wins a second term, he will surely have the opportunity to nominate another Supreme Court Justice, or maybe even two. In theory, those appointments would lock down legal decisions for the next several decades along lines you see as morally correct.
That’s a powerful incentive for letting Trump be Trump. I see the genuine sense in that stance.
At the same time, it’s important to ask yourself what a shot at that brass ring is worth. Though it sparkles like gold, is it priceless?
If the top of your bucket list is winning the culture war, keep in mind the risk of a Pyrrhic victory. When the time comes for these new Trump-appointed judges and justices to deliver the conservative outcomes you value so much, the rule of law may have lost its value. Chipping away at the legal system and undermining the public’s faith in courts is tantamount to defeat. What good is a finding in your favor if legal findings don’t mean much anymore?
On Tuesday, Trump, working outside the usual Justice Department vetting procedures, commuted the sentence of Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor sentenced to 14 years in prison for essentially trying to sell Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder. He also granted clemency to financier Milken, former New York City police commissioner Kerik, and the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers Edward DeBartolo, Jr.
Last week, Trump tweeted his disapproval of a Justice Department sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, his friend and political ally convicted of seven felony charges, including lying to Congress.
In both of these actions, he overruled judges, juries and his own Justice Department, the very people and institutions charged with rendering impartial justice.
Add to this the cracks Trump has hewn in the other supposedly co-equal branch of government: Congress. President Trump attempted to nullify the congressional power over the the country’s purse strings by holding up aid Congress had allocated for Ukraine.
Trump is obfuscating the system of checks and balances so thoroughly that not long from now the Executive branch of government will be so powerful that Congress and the Judiciary will serve at the pleasure of the President.
You understandably hope to create the conservative court that will render decisions that comport with your values. Yet by turning a blind eye to all of this in pursuit of that goal, you are instead devaluing the rule of law itself.
The sad truth is that the legal system you treasure, the legal system you hope will faithfully deliver the rulings you crave, will simply no longer exist. When the only decision that counts is the one made by the president himself, that’s no legal system at all.
Posted on Forbes.com February 19, 2020