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Seattle federal judge recalls deluge of threats after striking down Trump travel ban in 2017

Mike Carter, The Seattle Times on

Published in News & Features

SEATTLE — A federal judge in Seattle made an appearance on CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday to recall being deluged with death threats and put under round-the-clock U.S. Marshal protection after crossing former President Donald Trump in 2017.

Senior U.S. District Judge James Robart appeared on the news program to talk about his experience as part of a segment on a startling increase in threats against the U.S. judiciary.

Robart was dismissed by Trump via Twitter as a “so-called judge” when, in response to a lawsuit filed by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the judge ordered a halt nationwide to Trump’s first attempt to ban travel to the U.S. by people from certain predominantly Muslim countries.

Robart, a respected litigator who was appointed to the federal bench in 2003 by Republican President George W. Bush and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate, told “60 Minutes” correspondent Bill Whitaker that the backlash was immediate and personal. He said someone posted his address and phone number online, and the threats came pouring in — more than 40,000 messages, of which 1,100 were serious enough to require further investigation.

In addition to his “so-called judge” insult, Trump also implied that Robart would be responsible for any terrorist attack that might occur as a result of blocking the ban, which was roundly criticized as xenophobic and racist by civil libertarians and legal scholars.

“People took that as somehow meaning that I was giving permission for their families to be in danger,” Robart said. “The tone of a number of the messages was, ‘You must be stopped.'”

 

The judge said he believes the president or parties have a right to criticize the decision, but felt that targeting him personally amounted to an attack on the judiciary as a whole.

“I don’t think criticizing a judge is acceptable,” he said. While there may be a dispute in fact or law, Robart said, “There is no dispute at the point that you start to talk about, ‘I’m going to kill you’ … or more importantly to me, ‘I’m going to hurt your family.'”

Robart, whose precise and understated demeanor on the bench and ubiquitous bow tie are hallmarks of his courtroom, is perhaps most familiar as the federal judge overseeing the decade-old consent-decree between the Department of Justice and the Seattle Police Department. He is also the trial judge in the case of Shawna Reid, the woman charged with lying to a grand jury in connection with the 20-year FBI investigation into the shooting death of Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Wales.

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