William Horsley Orrick III is a United States District Judge for the Northern District of California. Last week, Orrick, an Obama appointee, blocked President Trump’s executive order to withhold money to sanctuary cities.
In 2015, Kate Steinle was killed because San Francisco is a sanctuary city. She was shot by an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times. If San Francisco had cooperated with federal authorities, Kate Steinle would still be alive.
While liberal politicians are under pressure to support sanctuary cities, judges should be above politics. They should not encourage politicians, at the state and local level, to not enforce laws they don’t like or willfully impede an investigation by the federal government.
Public Citizen, a liberal group founded by Ralph Nader, reported that Judge Orrick raised $200,000 for Barack Obama as well as personally donating $30,000 to committees supporting his campaign. In 2004, Orrick also bundled $100,000 for John Kerry’s failed presidential campaign.
In 2013, Orrick was confirmed to the same seat his father Judge William Orrick, Jr. held from 1974 to 2003. He clearly wanted his father’s old seat.
I think the main question is can our judiciary be independent from the executive branch if this form of corruption becomes normalized? Will future candidates eventually believe that the only way to get a federal appointment is to give a presidential candidate a lot of money?
Will District Judges be more likely to be appointed to the Appellate Courts if they donate to a certain presidential candidate? Will contenders for the Supreme Court feel compelled to host fundraisers for politicians?
In 2001, the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist argued it would dangerous to the United States Supreme Court if it became common for Associate Justices to be directly nominated to the position of Chief Justice. Rehnquist was one of only three Chief Justices confirmed by the Senate that was directly elevated from Associate Justice.
Rehnquist argued that if the Associate Justices believed they were the most likely contenders for Chief Justice, it would destroy the independence of the court. The justices would see each other as strategic opponents. They would also be tempted to write their decisions to curry favor with the president.
At the same time, if judges believed that the only way to get a federal judgeship was to give money to a presidential candidate, this could further politicize the judiciary. The courts need legitimacy. If people believe judges are just legislating from the bench, it will be impossible for them to make unpopular decisions.
When Justice Scalia sided with the majority in Texas v. Johnson to support the right for people to burn the American flag, nobody was under the allusion that he suddenly became a hippie. He didn’t like the idea of people burning the flag, but he agreed with the majority opinion that, “Under the circumstances, Johnson’s burning of the flag constituted expressive conduct, permitting him to invoke the First Amendment.”
Judges cannot be seen as legitimate if they donate to politicians. The Congress should pass a law that disqualifies any candidate for the federal judiciary if they provided a campaign contribution to the current president’s campaign. For example, if somebody gave money to Trump’s 2016 campaign, they should not be considered for a judicial appointment. That person can only be eligible if they have not provided a donation to the incumbent president.
Our judicial system is facing a crisis of legitimacy. The public knows that Republicans will pick conservatives and Democrats will pick liberals. The country has tolerated ideological judges, but it should not accept people who will buy their way into power.