September 01, 2017

Advance Sheet: Is There Any Virtue in Hypocrisy?

Robert E. Shapiro

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Few events during the early days of the Trump administration were more unsettling to the legal community than the personal attack our new president unleashed on Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel, the judge handling two of the legal proceedings against Trump University and Mr. Trump himself. Low v. Trump Univ., No. 3:10-cv-00940; Cohen v. Donald Trump, No. 3:13-cv-02519 (S.D. Cal.). The cases, now settled, were serious matters, class actions arising from a for-profit educational program said to be fraudulent and even a form of racketeering. The jurist in question had done nothing to justify any opprobrium. In fact, nothing irregular was or could even be claimed. All reports of Judge Curiel’s handling of the cases were that it had been nothing short of exemplary, and fair, despite considerable provocation. President Trump attacked him merely because of a presumed bias, not any bias shown.

Such an unprovoked, indeed preemptive, attack can hardly be said to be advantageous to the legal system. Courts depend in part on trust. Undermine their reputation and you undermine faith in the judicial process. A chief executive questioning the integrity of the courts could have no impact but to lower the esteem with which ordinary citizens hold judicial proceedings, no longer believing that what happens there is proper, let alone just. And the seeming attempt, by the president of the United States no less, to bully the courts could hardly have set a less favorable model for how to approach our legal system.

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