California's Chief Justice: Trump Dissing Judges Threatens the Courts

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye (Sheraz Sadiq/KQED)

A week after telling federal officials to stop "stalking undocumented immigrants" in the state's courthouses, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye says she's none too happy about President Trump's disparaging comments about judges either.

"I think it is very threatening to the third branch of government," Cantil-Sakauye said in an interview for KQED Newsroom.

"It's an indication of not treating the three branches as co-equal," she added. "And it’s troubling to all of us to hear that, because it's an attack on the public confidence and trust and in the judicial branch’s rulings."

Her letter last week to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was received less than enthusiastically. Sessions' office said simply they're reviewing the matter, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) blamed state and local sanctuary city laws that limit their options for apprehending wanted individuals.

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"The first thing I take from that response is they obviously have stepped up enforcement activities," Cantil-Sakauye said. "That to me is an admission of enforcement activity increases, unlike what was happening in the Obama administration."

The chief justice said that while California was the first state to ask the federal government to stop enforcing immigration laws in their courts, it won't be the last.

She noted that Washington state's chief justice sent a similar letter.

"Additionally, I know that the New Mexico Superior Court is hearing many issues and complaints and they're determining what they can and want to do in this situation," she added. "And I've read about it in Colorado, I've read about it in Texas, and I know that the chiefs are thinking about this."

Perhaps because she was appointed to the court by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010 as a registered Republican, the chief justice's letter has gotten the attention of national media. That surprised her. But she also sees this as a golden opportunity to emphasize the importance of maintaining people's faith in the courts.

If the federal crackdown continues, she says, it will make communities less safe.

"People will not report, they will not cooperate," she said. "There will be fewer witnesses against bad guys. And I can't believe that that was their intent of their actions if they thought about that."

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