Trump hits back after rebuke from US chief justice

President’s criticism of judge who ruled against immigration order leads to intervention

Donald Trump has continued his spat with the chief justice of the United States supreme court, after Justice John Roberts rebuked the president for describing a judge who ruled against his latest immigration order as an "Obama judge".

In an unusual criticism of a sitting US president, Justice Roberts said in a statement: “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

His statement, issued by the supreme court in response to a request for comment by the Associated Press, came as Mr Trump hit out at US district judge Jon Tigar, who ruled against the president's order to prohibit immigrants who enter the US without crossing through dedicated points of entry from claiming asylum.


Mr Trump took issue with Justice Roberts’s statement on Twitter. “Judges must not legislate security and safety at the border or anywhere else,” he wrote. “They know nothing about it and are making our country unsafe.” On Thursday Mr Trump added: “Justice Roberts can say what he wants, but the 9th Circuit is a complete & total disaster . . .”

The president announced his latest attempt to curb US immigration policy on November 9th, but Judge Tigar, a San-Francisco-based federal judge appointed by President Barack Obama, struck it down earlier this week. Under US law migrants are entitled to apply for asylum no matter where they enter the country.

Mr Roberts's intervention comes in the wake of an acrimonious debate over partisanship in America's highest court following the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as supreme court justice. Justice Kavanaugh, who replaced Justice Anthony Kennedy, was appointed by Mr Trump and passed by the Republican-majority Senate. The Senate had refused to consider Mr Obama's nomination to the court to replace the late Antonin Scalia during the final years of his presidency.

Deploy force

As thousands of migrants continued to gather in Tijuana, just south of Mexico's border with California, the White House issued an order that would allow military personnel deployed to the border to deploy force if needed in dealing with migrants arriving to the United States.

According to the order, signed by White House chief of staff John Kelly, members of the military will be permitted to use "a show or use of force (including lethal force, where necessary), crowd control, temporary detention and cursory search" to protect customs and border protection officers.

But defence secretary James Mattis said that there had been no decision to alter the mission in the area and that the Pentagon was reviewing the order.

Mr Trump has deployed an estimated 5,800 troops to the southern border in anticipation of the arrival of a caravan of migrants making its way up through central America to the US border. The military troops, who spent Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday on deployment, are mainly playing a support role to the immigration officials based there, erecting wires and providing logistical assistance.


Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that central American migrants will be forced to file their applications for asylum in Mexico rather than in the United States under new measures being drawn up by the Trump administration and the department of homeland security.

Currently, immigrants who face a genuine threat in their homeland are permitted to stay in the United States until they can obtain a hearing with an immigration judge, a policy termed by Mr Trump as “catch and release”. Instead migrants will have to show that they have a “reasonable fear” of staying in Mexico if they are to be allowed into the United States.

Local officials in Tijuana warn of a looming crisis as they struggle to cope with the numbers congregating there. It is unclear whether Mexico, which will see a new president sworn in on December 1st, has been consulted on the latest asylum-screening proposals.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent