This editorial was first published in The Washington Post. Guest editorials don't necessarily reflect the Daily Messenger's opinions.


Last November, President Donald Trump, irate at a federal district court ruling contrary to his administration’s attempt to stop some migrants from seeking asylum at the border, blasted the judge, Jon S. Tigar, as a biased "Obama judge." Standing up for the integrity of the federal judiciary, of which he is the titular head, Chief Justice John Roberts issued an extraordinary statement contradicting Trump, albeit without naming him. "We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges," Roberts said. "What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them."

Some of Roberts’s colleagues on the Supreme Court did not get the memo. Or so it would seem from the innuendo Justice Clarence Thomas aimed at U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in an opinion dissenting from the court’s Wednesday ruling that upheld Furman’s decision to block a Trump administration plan to ask the citizenship of census respondents. Joined by Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, Thomas blasted Furman’s finding — affirmed not only by Roberts but also four other justices — that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had unlawfully misstated his true reasons for adding the question. Thomas went well beyond disputing Furman’s legal reasoning to questioning the district judge’s good faith, accusing him of "transparently" applying "an administration-specific standard." He portrayed Furman’s presentation of evidence that Ross acted on a pretext as akin to "a conspiracy web," that could be woven by "a judge predisposed to distrust the Secretary or the administration."

Though couched in the indirect language of a legal opinion and its accompanying specialized notations, this was unmistakably a Trump-like insinuation that Furman, elevated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2011, had ruled on his personal preferences rather than the law. Coming from a justice of the nation’s highest court, Thomas’s sour words regarding a lower court colleague were not only destructive and unfounded. They were also self-contradictory, given that, elsewhere in the very same opinion, he faulted the court majority for "echoing the din of suspicion and distrust that seems to typify modern discourse." For Kavanaugh and Gorsuch to join such an opinion was a lapse in self-awareness on their part, given how readily Democratic partisans accuse them of bias in favor of the president who appointed them — Trump.

Thomas’s ill-considered language undermined the defense of the judiciary that the chief justice had previously attempted to mount. And to what end? Thomas and his two colleagues could have made precisely the same legal argument without it. "The law requires a more impartial approach," Thomas protested, referring to Furman’s ruling and the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of it. Actually, that admonition applies to him.