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Defeat for Trump, victory for rule of law

United States (US) President Donald Trump could not contain himself in disgust when the Supreme Court of the United States (Scotus), voting 7-2, rejected outright his supporters’ “motion for leave to file complaint” to overturn the election results in four states: Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin (Texas v. Pennsylvania, Dec. 11, 2020). The suit claimed, without any proof, that those election results were characterized by widespread fraud and erroneous counting. The Scotus ruling came just before the US Electoral College officially voted on Dec. 14 in favor of Joe Biden, 306-232. Trump branded the Scotus verdict a “disgraceful miscarriage of justice.” Trump desperately wanted the Scotus to subtract, via some strange legal gobbledygook, the 62 electoral votes of those four states (Georgia, 16; Michigan, 16; Pennsylvania, 20; and Wisconsin, 10) from Biden’s score of 306 and to add the said 62 to his 232 votes, thereby resulting in his victory by judicial fiat, 294-244.

The US President was peeved to learn that all his three new Scotus appointees, Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett, voted with the majority of seven. Two conservatives, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, dissented but only to grant the “motion to file” without committing their vote on the complaint itself. Had these three new appointees voted with their two fellow conservative dissenters, Trump would have won, 5-4.

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Trump’s last card to overturn Biden’s victory is held by the US Congress which will meet on Jan. 6, 2021 to officially count the 538 electoral votes and to proclaim the winner. However, this card is really a joker because Sen. Mitch McConnell, the tough leader of the Republicans in the US Senate, already congratulated Biden, saying:

“Many millions of us had hoped the presidential election would yield a different result. But our system of government has processes to determine who will be sworn in on January the 20th.” In short, he agreed with the Electoral College count of 306-232.

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To me, McConnell’s congratulations, even if late and reluctant, is an acknowledgment that despite Trump’s occasional megalomania and authoritarian streak, the rule of law is much alive in the US, and that after losing its way during the last four years, that mighty country could now be looked up to by the free world for leadership.

The Scotus’ rebuff of Trump reminds me of another president, who, two decades ago, lost his claim to our country’s top post when our Court—voting 13-0 (with CJ Hilario G. Davide Jr. and I inhibiting) in Estrada v. Desierto (March 2, 2001)—upheld his replacement by, and the permanent (not “acting”) ascension to the top post of, then VP Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Six years after he was convicted of plunder, pardoned by President Arroyo and freshly released from detention, former President Estrada sought me and asked me why the Court was unanimous in ousting him. In a one-on-one meeting arranged by his former finance secretary and my good friend, Jose T. Pardo, in his (Pardo’s) house in Ayala Alabang, Estrada inquired:

“During my two and half years in office, I named several justices to the Supreme Court. Why is it that none of them dissented from the 13-0 decision ousting me… If they could not side with me, why did they not just inhibit like you?”

I could not speak for his appointees, but I explained that that was how the rule of law works: Decisions and actions of the government and its officials must conform to the Constitution and the law, not to the wiles and whims of the governors.

Moreover, the Constitution requires members of the judiciary, not just of the Supreme Court, to be “of proven competence, integrity, probity and independence.” As I have written in several books, those who don the Court’s black robes are expected to undergo a transformation, to become different persons, to forfeit their past activities, relatives, and friends, especially the president who appointed them, and to devote their full time and attention to the exclusive and reclusive world of decision-making.

The moral lesson, I think, is that presidents should assume a cutting of umbilical ties when jurists enter the hallowed doors of the Supreme Court. In fact, I believe, they should be happy, or at least consoled, that their appointees lived up to their sworn duty of “Fiat justitia ruat caelum” (Let justice be done though the heavens may fall).

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TAGS: 2020, appointment, Donald Trump, election, politics, rule of law, Supreme Court, US
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