The uphill battle faced by the Trump campaign in its libel lawsuit against the Washington Post is already looking more arduous. The case was assigned on Wednesday to U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbia Ketanji Brown Jackson. Appointed to the federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2013, Judge Jackson has already leveled several rulings against the administration, some of them harshly worded.
The campaign’s lawsuit singled out two pieces by Washington Post opinion writers Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman. Sargent wrote that former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation “concluded that Trump and/or his campaign eagerly encouraged, tried to conspire with, and happily profited off” Russia’s efforts.
The Mueller report explicitly stated that the special counsel’s investigation “identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign” and established that the Trump Campaign “showed interest in WikiLeaks’s releases of documents and welcomed their potential to damage candidate Clinton.”
Waldman’s allegedly libelous statement was actually a rhetorical question: “Who knows what sort of aid Russia and North Korea will give to the Trump campaign, now that he has invited them to offer their assistance?” The article included a hyperlink to a transcript of Trump’s interview with ABC News (the lawsuit didn’t include the link). Trump told George Stephanopoulos that he would listen if a foreign nation said it had information on a political opponent.
You may remember Judge Jackson for her rebuke of the Trump administration in its attempt to prevent former White House counsel Don McGahn from complying with a congressional subpoena to testify.
In her stinging 120-page decision in the McGahn case–which a federal appellate court overturned in late Feb. 2020–Brown ruled that former administration officials must comply with congressional subpoenas, or else we’d be on a path to tyranny.
“[W]hen DOJ insists that Presidents can lawfully prevent their senior-level aides from responding to compelled congressional process and that neither the federal courts nor Congress has the power to do anything about it, DOJ promotes a conception of separation-of-powers principles that gets these constitutional commands exactly backwards,” Jackson wrote. “In reality, it is a core tenet of this Nation’s founding that the powers of a monarch must be split between the branches of the government to prevent tyranny. Thus, when presented with a case or controversy, it is the Judiciary’s duty under the Constitution to interpret the law and to declare government overreaches unlawful.”
In a 127-page decision blocking the Trump administration from expanding its program for “expedited removal” of undocumented immigrants, Judge Jackson carefully dismantled the DOJ’s legal defenses of the proposed expansion and defended nationwide preliminary injunctions.
Jackson took particular issue with the DOJ’s contention that even where a federal court finds an administration’s rule to be unlawful, the court “must limit any injunctive relief” to only the named plaintiffs in the legal action. She said the DOJ’s arguments in the case “reek[ed] of bad faith.”
“In sum, and sternly put, the argument that an administrative agency should be permitted to side-step the required result of a fair-fought fight about well-established statutory constraints on agency action is a terrible proposal that is patently inconsistent with the dictates of the law,” Jackson wrote in response to the DOJ proposed limited injunction remedy. “Additionally, it reeks of bad faith, demonstrates contempt for the authority that the Constitution’s Framers have vested in the judicial branch, and, ultimately, deprives successful plaintiffs of the full measure of the remedy to which they are entitled.”
[image via Win McNamee/Getty Images]