President Trump defied presidential campaign norms by refusing to disclose his financial information. He then defied the clear legal authority of the House of Representatives to scrutinize that information, instead exhausting a series of wild legal appeals in hopes of running out the clock. Next month, the Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments on three cases centering on Trump’s supposed right to conceal information about the financial empire he intermingles with his public duties.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Trump is demanding two liberal justices recuse themselves from any case involving him, first on Twitter, and then in a news conference from India:.
The pretexts for this demand are as follows. Ginsburg criticized Trump in 2016 — a serious breach of court decorum — before subsequently apologizing. It is not clear what reason Trump would have for demanding her recusal now, several years later.
Sotomayor’s alleged offense is even flimsier. Trump, citing Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham, seized on a dissent by Sotomayor, in which the justice criticized the majority for indulging repeated Trump claims that its actions were justified by emergencies. “Claiming one emergency after another, the government has recently sought stays in an unprecedented number of cases, demanding immediate attention and consuming limited court resources in each,” she wrote, criticizing her colleagues for a pattern of rulings favoring the administration (“Perhaps most troublingly, the court’s recent behavior on stay applications has benefited one litigant over all others”).
“She’s trying to shame people with a different view into voting her way, and that’s so inappropriate,” Trump complained. In other words, Sotomayor’s offense is to try to make arguments in her written dissents that persuade other justices to change their minds. That is not a cause for recusal, it is literally the job description for a Supreme Court justice.
It is true that Ginsburg clumsily opined on Trump during the campaign (probably assuming, as many people did, he was bound to lose). That is certainly a form of bias that detracts from the image of nonpartisanship the court attempts to project. On the other hand, Trump appointed two members of the Supreme Court. A third justice, Clarence Thomas, currently has a spouse working for his administration, where she is at this moment helping lead a purge of putatively disloyal officials and attempting to replace them with a list of right-wing lunatics.
There is, in sum, no good, substantive reason why Ginsburg and Sotomayor should recuse themselves. The question becomes, why is Trump bringing this up now? Presidents have every right to criticize the logic of court rulings, but questioning the legitimacy of the court is a far more provocative step.
The most sinister possible explanation is that he is laying the groundwork to defy an adverse court ruling requiring him to turn over his financial information — or, perhaps, floating such a possibility in the hopes that conservatives justices will side with him rather than provoke a direct confrontation over the court’s authority. This would pose Trump’s most dire and direct challenge yet to the rule of law.
A far more likely explanation, however, is that Trump is merely cranky and lashing out impulsively because he is triggered by stories he sees in conservative media. In sum, it is a typical Trump story: possibly the end of democracy, probably just the president acting like a child.