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Trump Accuses Courts Of Being Political In Defense Of Immigration Order

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Today President Trump defended his executive order that temporarily bans refugees worldwide along with all travelers from seven majority Muslim nations. That order is on pause for now because of an ongoing lawsuit. In defending his policy, Trump also said some things many legal experts argue the president shouldn't say. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Trump told a gathering of law enforcement officials America's security was at risk because his executive order had been put on hold. And he read the statute he and government lawyers argue gives him the authority to decide who can enter the country.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: A bad high school student would understand this. Anybody would understand it.

KEITH: But then Trump veered into criticism of the three appeals court judges who heard arguments last night about the president's order.

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TRUMP: I listened to a panel of judges, and I'll comment on that - or I will not comment on the statements made by certainly one judge.

KEITH: But comment he did.

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TRUMP: I don't ever want to call a court biased, so I won't call it biased. And we haven't had a decision yet. But courts seem to be so political, and it would be so great for our justice system if they would be able to read a statement and do what's right.

KEITH: This isn't the first time Trump has criticized the judicial branch. During the campaign, he went after the judge overseeing the Trump University fraud case. And as president, in the past week, Trump has repeatedly tweeted complaints about a so-called judge and a court system he says is making America less safe. Jonathan Adler is a law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

JONATHAN ADLER: These sorts of comments are inappropriate by a president, unnecessarily challenge judicial independence and I also think are short-sighted in that they're not likely to encourage the legal outcome that the administration says that it wants.

KEITH: Back in 2012, President Obama took heat for weighing in just a few days after the Supreme Court heard arguments on the Affordable Care Act. He implied that if the court struck down the law, it would be judicial activism, unelected judges overruling the will of the elected Congress.

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BARACK OBAMA: And I'm pretty confident that this court will recognize that and not take that step.

KEITH: Again, Jonathan Adler...

ADLER: President Obama's comments were quite mild compared to the repeated tweets and public comments that President Trump has been making.

KEITH: Trump's own pick for the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, in a meeting with a Democratic senator today described President Trump's comments about the judiciary as demoralizing. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.