On Monday, the last judicial shoe fell on Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election when the US Supreme Court rejected his third and final challenge in high court. As the United States moves into the presidency of Biden, the court ruling exemplifies why the judiciary is our nation’s strongest bulwark against authoritarianism. In fact, during the greatest threat to our democracy in modern history, the American judicial system was our last line of defense, demonstrating, as Andrew Jackson wrote, “All the rights guaranteed to citizens by the Constitution are worth nothing … except guaranteed by an independent and virtuous judiciary. “
When Donald Trump left office in January as president for a term, however, he had a major impact on the American judicial system. In four years, Trump had appointed 226 judges to the federal court, including 54 to the court of appeals. This latest number is just one less judge than Barack Obama appointed to that court in his eight years as president. Of the 13 federal appeals courts in the country, Trump managed to change three from liberal to conservative majorities. Meanwhile, his three Supreme Court justices were the most appointed in a single term since Richard Nixon. Indeed, Trump’s mark on the American judiciary will be long-lasting and deep.
This is why it was so significant that Trump’s false and heinous claim that the elections were “stolen” from him – the “Big Lie,” as many have called it – was unequivocally, even dismissive, repudiated by the courts. By doing so, the American judiciary saved our democracy. That may sound hyperbolic, but in such a politically volatile time when members of the American right conspired to kidnap a governor, stormed the U.S. Capitol, and believed the Democratic Party was being run by cannibals worshiping Satan, the judiciary proved to be our only target. an institution immune to the virulent hyperpartisanship that infects this country. He managed to maintain, even if only, the legitimacy of both political parties.
But here’s what’s really interesting: It was because of, not despite, Trump’s influence in the judiciary that the peaceful transfer of power was ensured. Sounds crazy? Imagine if the courts, like Congress and the media, had split along partisan lines, with the designated Democrats ruling against Trump’s electoral challenges and the Republicans appointed in favor. Imagine further that no Trump appointee had heard the cases. The right wing, already inflamed by conspiracy theories, would have considered the entire process a sham. Worse still, a partisan split would have instilled an even deeper feeling among all Americans that the country did not possess an objective arbiter, that the truth was only what our respective political leaders considered it to be.
A massive insurrection, at the very least, or a Trump coup, at worst, would have been the result. The Capitol mutiny on January 6 was the ready match to ignite the conflagration.
We are spared these results just because of the bipartisan nature of court decisions and because Trump-appointed judges heard key cases: In more than 60 post-election lawsuits, a total of 86 judges, including 38 Republican-appointed and eight Republican-elected. Trump himself. – He rejected the electoral challenges. Even the Supreme Court, with a third of the justices appointed by Trump, ruled against him. Not a single Trump appointee in any court voted in favor of his fraud claims.
This clear repudiation had powerful effects. It forced several of Trump’s highest-ranking supporters to finally admit that, in fact, the election had not been stolen. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had for weeks refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory. He referred to him as “president-elect” only after state voters officially voted, which followed the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear a challenge from Trump. Even William Barr, the fawning head of Trump’s Justice Department, finally admitted in early December, after the election challenges were rejected en masse, that there was no evidence of widespread fraud. Reversals like these further delegitimized the “Stop the Steal” movement and dumped cold water on pro-Trump groups ready to act on their incendiary claims. (According to the FBI, right-wing militias planned armed protests in all 50 state capitals. They never materialized.)
While many Trump supporters still believe he won the election, according to a January poll, more than 70 percent of Republicans believed Trump received more votes than Biden, when faced with the fact that even Trump-appointed judges rejected. accusations of fraud, his charges of a Democratic conspiracy became much more difficult to sell. Two lame explanations landed on my newsfeed: one was that the courts were “deep in the deep state”; the other was that the judges had been “paid.” These are ridiculous, of course. The judges appointed by Trump could hardly have been more severe or rigorous in their reproaches.
“A sitting president who did not prevail in his re-election bid has asked the federal court for assistance in overriding the popular vote,” wrote Brett H. Ludwig, Trump’s appointed District Court judge in Wisconsin. Ludwig called Trump’s electoral challenge “bizarre” adding: “This court gave the plaintiff the opportunity to present his case, and he has lost the merits.” Steven Grimberg, a Trump-appointed district court judge in Georgia, wrote: “Stopping certification literally at the 11th hour would create confusion and possible disenfranchisement which, in my opinion, has no basis in fact or in fact. right”.
“Unlike the electorate, the judges were unified in their opinions. “
Statements like these helped preserve our democracy because virtually every other American institution that could have slowed Trump’s potential takeover had been co-opted by Trump or denigrated to the point of near impotence. The media was “fake news” spread by the Democrats. The intelligence agencies were run by “Obama remnants” and filled with members of the “deep state” who hated Trump. Most Republican congressmen, meanwhile, publicly supported the false allegations of fraud. It wasn’t even clear how the military would respond to a takeover, as Trump had filled key leadership positions with cronies. (Congressional hearings on the January 6 riots revealed that the Pentagon took more than three hours to approve the request for help from Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund of the DC National Guard. Top Army Leaders, including the brother of Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, declined the request, Sund testified.)
On February 13, the United States Senate had the opportunity to fulfill its duty to control executive misconduct. Days earlier, the House of Representatives had sent its second articles of impeachment against President Trump to the upper house. This historic second impeachment trial accused Trump of “inciting insurrection” over the unrest on Capitol Hill. House administrators argued that Trump had “fostered and cultivated violence” to overturn a free and fair presidential election. Representative Liz Cheney called Trump’s actions “the greatest betrayal of the presidential oath in American history.” The Senate voted 57-43 to convict, but that was 10 votes short of the supermajority of two-thirds needed to do so.
The vote was by no means an exoneration – seven Republicans and two independents joined the majority, making it the largest bipartisan vote to convict in American history – but a conviction would have been an unmistakable deterrent to future ones. presidents who would use autocratic tactics. Furthermore, the acquittal, like the one that followed Trump’s first impeachment trial, emboldened him. On February 17, after weeks of silence, the former president reappeared in the media with the same false claims that more than 60 court cases had already been dismissed. In an interview with Newsmax, Trump repeated his fallacious refrain: “It was a stolen, rigged and rigged election.”
But, fortunately, in this case, the president was not the decisive one. The courts were. And unlike the electorate, the judges were unified in their opinions. As Third Circuit Judge Stephanos Bibas wrote in response to a challenge from the president who appointed him: “The accusations of injustice are serious. But calling an election unfair does not mean that it is. The charges require specific indictments and then evidence. We don’t have any here. “