The Republican, “Alt-Right” President, Donald J. Trump, and his recent tirades against judges and lawyers who dare to block his “in-your-face” political agenda possess deep historical roots. If the reshuffle of presidential portraits hanging in the oval office is any indication, a showdown between the executive and judicial branches will surely be upon us. A painting of the USA’s seventh president, Andrew Jackson, hangs in the president’s work space – a not so subtle Trump indicator that he intends to push the boundaries of current Constitutional practices.
Jackson is famous for ignoring the Supreme Court’s decision of Worcester v. Georgia in 1832. It was Supreme Court Justice John Marshall who delivered the majority opinion that Georgia could not break federal treaties with sovereign nations, and that, indeed, the Cherokee Nation was sovereign. This was a blow to those who espied Cherokee land and resources (including rumors of gold).
Nonetheless, after hearing of the decision, Jackson allegedly quipped, “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” By 1836, Jackson ordered General John E. Wool to speed up Cherokee removal, asking the nation to “voluntarily” remove themselves with government assistance and provisions. It was Arthur Van Buren who, upon becoming president in 1838, gave the order to forcibly remove the Cherokee. General Winfield Scott and 7,000 federal troops obeyed.
But Jackson was not the only president to ignore decisions levied from the judicial branch. Abraham Lincoln defied the Taney court over habeas corpus suspensions.
These examples demonstrate that the cherished concept of checks and balances of the United States Constitution has its limits. Franklin D. Roosevelt famously fought against what he perceived as an overreaching and unresponsive court to the economic depression of the 1930s. Though Roosevelt attempted to alter the Court’s composition, his public popularity could not change the Court’s composition or structure.
Already, the executive and judicial are in a tight tango of contentious to and fro. Attorney General Salley Yates was unceremoniously fired with the president calling her a betrayer of the department. When federal judge James Robart halted the “Muslim ban”, Trump tweeted angrily calling Robart a “so-called judge” who was “ridiculous” in his decision.
Last time I checked, those are fighting words. We may not have too long a wait before the judicial and executives branches begin to openly spar. Meanwhile, Jackson hangs in the oval office.