By Steve Holland
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday turned his ire on liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, making a highly unusual call for them to recuse themselves from any cases involving him or his administration.
The Republican president, concluding a two-day trip to India, took aim at two of the three women who serve on the top U.S. judicial body during a visit to a foreign country two weeks after his own attorney general rebuked him for assailing prosecutors and the judge in a high-profile case.
Trump first posted criticism of Sotomayor and Ginsburg on Twitter citing comments on Fox News and then expanded his remarks at a news conference in New Delhi. He appeared to refer to a dissenting opinion Sotomayor wrote on Friday when the court allowed a hardline Trump administration immigration policy to go into effect in Illinois.
Sotomayor questioned why the court, whose 5-4 conservative majority includes two justices appointed by Trump, so frequently grants emergency requests filed by his administration. Trump also cited Ginsburg’s criticism of him during the 2016 presidential race.
“I just don’t know how they cannot recuse themselves with anything having to do with Trump or Trump-related,” Trump said, adding that Supreme Court justices should be held to a “higher standard.”
The justices, through a court spokeswoman, had no comment.
Trump throughout his presidency has criticized federal judges after rulings he did not like. Critics have accused him of political interference in the courts and seeking to compromise the independence of the judiciary.
The most recent example was his attacks this month on the judge, jury and prosecutors in the trial of his friend and long-time adviser Roger Stone. Attorney General William Barr said at the time that such comments by Trump “make it impossible for me to do my job” and to assure the courts and federal prosecutors “that we’re doing our work with integrity.”
On Friday, the Supreme Court on a 5-4 vote let Trump’s administration implement in Illinois new standards requiring immigrants to prove they would not require government assistance while litigation continues in lower courts over the legality of the so-called “public charge” rules. The court had already let the policy take effect in the rest of the country.
The four liberal justices dissented, including Sotomayor, who wrote that the court has appeared to favor the Trump administration over other litigants seeking emergency actions.
Trump’s administration has made numerous quick appeals to the Supreme Court, sometimes bypassing lower federal appeals courts – a hallmark of its legal strategy partly because of the high number of policies blocked by lower courts early in his presidency.
Legal scholars said while the strategy may seem rational it endangers the credibility of the office of the U.S. Solicitor General, who is responsible for defending the administration’s policies at the Supreme Court.
“Perhaps most troublingly, the court’s recent behavior on stay applications has benefited one litigant over all others,” Sotomayor wrote, without mentioning Trump by name.
“I fear that this disparity in treatment erodes the fair and balanced decision-making process that this court must strive to protect,” Sotomayor added.
Supreme Court justices regularly write opinions criticizing the approaches taken by their colleagues. Two justices who do it frequently are conservatives Neil Gorsuch, who Trump appointed in 2017, and Clarence Thomas.
“It’s almost what she’s trying to do is take the people that do feel a different way and get them to vote the way that she would like them to vote. I just thought it was so inappropriate,” Trump said of Sotomayor.
Trump in 2016 called for Ginsburg’s resignation after she criticized him in media interviews, calling him a “faker” and voicing fear for the country if he were elected. She later expressed regret for the remarks.
Trump told the news conference that Ginsburg “went wild during the campaign” and that “perhaps she was for Hillary Clinton,” his Democratic election opponent.
U.S. law requires Supreme Court justices, who serve lifetime terms, to step aside when there is a conflict of interest or genuine question of bias, but leaves recusal decisions to the individual justices.
Sotomayor, 65, was appointed in 2009 by Democratic former President Barack Obama, becoming the first Hispanic justice. Ginsburg, 86, was appointed in 1993 by Democratic former President Bill Clinton.
During political rallies, Trump often touts Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who he appointed in 2018, to the applause of his supporters. Gorsuch and Kavanaugh have provided reliable votes in favor of administration policies in key cases.
Trump also previously criticized conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, who in 2018 issued an unusual public statement defending judicial independence after the president accused a judge who ruled against his asylum immigration policy of being an “Obama judge.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Andrew Chung and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)