<span class="articleLocation”>U.S. Judge James Robart emerged from relative
obscurity on Saturday as the first jurist to come under fire
from the president since he took office after his temporary
order to lift Donald Trump’s immigration ban.
In a reaction that went viral on Twitter, Trump called the
69-year-old Robart a “so-called judge” whose “ridiculous”
opinion “essentially takes law-enforcement away from our
To those who know Robart, who has been on the federal bench
in Seattle for more than a decade after his appointment by
another Republican, President George W. Bush, the ensuing drama
surrounding the move was a far cry from the judge’s standard.
“He is relatively apolitical,” said Douglas Adkins, a
private equity investor and former investment banker who has
known Robart since childhood. “He’s not a conservative or a
liberal. He’s a man interested in the law and fairness.”
Late on Friday, Robart grabbed national headlines with his
decision to temporarily lift Trump’s week-old travel ban for
citizens of seven mainly Muslim countries and refugees. His
ruling was just a first step in considering the merits of the
case challenging the ban. The Justice Department on Saturday
filed a formal notice that it intends to appeal the ruling.
As a candidate, Trump had criticized federal judge Gonzalo
Curiel, who was overseeing a case against his Trump University –
arguing Curiel could not be impartial because of his Mexican
heritage and Trump’s vow to crack down on Mexican immigrants.
But by lashing out at Robart as president, Trump’s
anti-judiciary stance takes on new importance: it hits at the
very heart of the checks and balances system meant to protect
the country from government abuse of power.
Coincidentally, in his wide-reaching ruling on Friday,
Robart emphasized that the three branches of government – the
executive branch, Congress and the judiciary – should function
“The work of the Judiciary, and this court, is limited to
ensuring that the actions taken by the other two branches
comport with our country’s laws, and more importantly, our
constitution,” Robart wrote.
Reached by email, Robart declined to comment on Trump’s
A graduate of Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington,
and Georgetown University Law Center, Robart spent 30 years in
private practice at the law firm now known as Lane Powell,
before being appointed to the bench by Bush in 2004.
Adkins said Robart and his wife have no children but have
been foster parents to several immigrant children over the
years, primarily from Southeast Asia. Robart could not be
reached for comment.
The judge served in the past as the president of the Seattle
Children’s Home and was a former trustee of the Children’s Home
Society of Washington, according to his official biography on
the federal court website. Those organizations provide mental
health services for at-risk youth and help troubled families.
“His involvement with children may have helped contribute to
his understanding of the people impacted by this ruling but
would not have shaped his interpretation of the rule of law,”
said Paul Lawrence, who was one of the attorneys who filed an
amicus brief backing Washington State in the immigration case.
‘PREVENTABLE HUMAN SUFFERING’
During his confirmation hearing, Robart recalled providing
pro-bono legal services early in his career to “people who in
many times felt that the legal system was stacked against them.”
He said he learned that the law “could be, if properly used, an
opportunity for them to seek redress if they had been wronged,”
according to a transcript of the testimony.
Often sporting bow-ties with his black robes, Robart is
known for saying from the bench in 2016 that “black lives
matter.” He cited the statement popularized by protesters during
a hearing about a 2012 consent decree with the federal
government that required the Seattle police department to
address allegations of bias and excessive force.
In 2011, Robart put a temporary hold on a state rule change
that would have cut government funding for disabled children and
families in Washington.
“When faced with a conflict between the financial and
budgetary concerns … and the preventable human suffering,”
Robart wrote in that opinion, “the balance of hardships tips in
the favor of preventing human suffering.”
Adkins said he thought his friend would be able to take
Trump’s attacks in stride.
“His view is that criticism is important,” said Adkins. (Additional reporting by Tracy Rucinski in Chicago and David
Shepardson in Washington)
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