Ethics Alarms had a revealing comment on the post about the grandstanding and unethical ex-acting-Attorney General’s breach of her duty to represent her client regarding the President’s Middle East immigration Executive Order. Following Judge Robart’s temporary restraining order (or TRO), the reader said, in essence, ‘See? She was right! The order was illegal, just like she said it was!’ The comment was idiotic on its face on many levels, yet it was also a fair summation of how partisan citizens have viewed the controversy. The various TROs validate the criticism of the Executive Order in their minds. They don’t, however. Judge Robart’s order particularly doesn’t. In fact, it is infuriatingly vague.
Now, a TRO doesn’t necessarily have to explain in detail what is wrong with a law, regulation or order. The purpose of this judicial act is to stall a measure that has the potential of causing a lot of disruption, unhappiness or expense from going into effect until there can be a decisive determination that it is legal, constitutional and within the power of the government entity that issued it. A judge issuing a TRO must conclude that the objection to the act is substantive, that the party applying for the TRO has a substantial chance of prevailing on the merits, and that the party has standing to object. The judge does not have to conclude that the party asking for the order is right, just that the party may be right.
However, reading Judge Judge Robart’s order, one can glean no clue as to why the TRO was justifiable, and why it is so sweeping. Although the judge writes in his conclusion that…
The work of the court is not to create policy or judge the Wisdom of any particular policy promoted by the other two branches. That is the work of the legislative and executive branches and of the citizens of this country who ultimately exercise democratic control over those branches. The work of the Judiciary, and this court, is limited to ensuring that the actions taken by the other two branches comport with our country’s laws, and more importantly, our Constitution. …
[T]he court is mindful of the considerable impact its order may have on the parties before it, the executive branch of our government, and the country’s citizens and residents. The court concludes that the circumstances brought before it today are such that it must intervene to fulfill its constitutional role in our tripart government.
…the order never states what is illegal or unconstitutional in his view. This omission has led many analysts to conclude that there isn’t anything. He just doesn’t like the order. Much has been made of the fact that Robart was a Bush appointee, so the order isn’t “partisan.” Of course, the same people making this argument, in other settings, would maintain that a Bush appointment is just a bad judge. Many, many, many Republicans and conservatives detest the President, and especially, one should remember, the Bush family. It is far from unlikely that bias against the President caused Judge Robart to employ poor judgment. Democrats cite the fact that Rorart is a conservative as part of a wonderfully convenient construct: if a conservative judge opposes them, the fact that he’s a conservative means he’s wrong, and if a conservative judge agrees with them, the fact that he’s a conservative means he’s right.
Some of the exchanges in the hearing that led to his order directly contradict his written statement that he is not questioning the wisdom of the order rather than challenging its legality.