Trump’s tweets about a judge find a critic in China

Source: Sinosphere, NYT (2/7/17)
Donald Trump’s Tweets About a Judge Find a Critic in an Unlikely Place: China

A protest outside the Supreme Court in Washington last month against President Trump’s executive order banning travel to the United States from seven majority-Muslim countries. Credit: Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

HONG KONG — President Trump’s public criticism of a federal judge who blocked his immigration order was condemned across the political spectrum as an assault on judicial independence. Now the president is being taken to task from an unexpected place: China.

Judge He Fan of the Supreme People’s Court of China published a scathing blog post about Mr. Trump’s reaction to Judge James L. Robart’s recent ruling blocking key parts of his executive order that barred visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Judge He said that Mr. Trump had breached the principle of an independent judiciary, and that people who attacked judges were “public enemies of the law.”

“Even if you control the armed forces and have nuclear weapons,” Judge He wrote in the post, published on Sunday, “your dignity has been swept away and you are no different than a villain.”

The notion of a Chinese jurist remarking on the danger he believes Mr. Trump poses to the separation of powers may seem, at first blush, to smack of hypocrisy. In China, courts are firmly under the command of the Communist Party. Last month, the chief justice publicly condemned the notion of judicial independence, warning judges not to fall into the “trap” of “Western” ideology.

But the harsh public face presented last month by the chief justice, Zhou Qiang, obscures what is happening on his watch. Judges like Mr. He admire the American legal system and study it to improve China’s rules, such as how to handle plea bargains or what to do with evidence obtained illegally, said Susan Finder, an American scholar who publishes the Supreme People’s Court Monitor, a blog that focuses on China’s top court.

Ms. Finder said that Judge He was an avowed “Scotus junkie” who translates books about the Supreme Court of the United States and works on the court’s judicial reform committee. Works that have been translated by Judge He include “Making Our Democracy Work,” by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, and “Becoming Justice Blackmun,” by Linda Greenhouse, about former Justice Harry A. Blackmun.

“The Supreme People’s Court looks more at the U.S. than you would ever think,” said Ms. Finder, who is a scholar at the School of Transnational Law at Peking University’s campus in the southern city of Shenzhen. “They are looking to try to improve the prestige of the Chinese judiciary.”

Unlike the United States Supreme Court, which has nine justices, China’s highest court has hundreds of judges, including those, like Judge He, whose main focus is outside the courtroom.

In his post, which includes an image of a caustic Twitter post in which Mr. Trump referred to the “so-called judge” who blocked his immigration order, Judge He also takes aim at violence against judicial officials in China, bringing up a case of the killing of a retired jurist in the southern region of Guangxi.

In doing so, Judge He, who could not be reached for comment, may be using Mr. Trump’s assault on the independence of America’s judiciary to safely and indirectly level some criticism against China’s own system.

“That could be part of the message,” said Ms. Finder, who has known Judge He for about three years and has written for his blog.

Follow Michael Forsythe on Twitter at @PekingMike.

Kiki Zhao contributed research from Beijing.

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