The federal judge who blocked President Trump's immigration ban spent more than 30 years in private practice before taking the bench, giving up a lucrative career that saw him representing breweries, energy companies and Southeast Asian immigrants.
Trump tweeted Saturday morning that he thought U.S. District Senior Judge James Robart's temporary restraining order was “ridiculous,” and declared it would be overturned.
Robart, who Trump demeaned as a “so-called judge,” was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush in 2004 after receiving unanimous support from the U.S. Senate.
Robart sits on the federal bench in Seattle, where he last year declared that “black lives matter” while hearing a Department of Justice lawsuit against the Seattle Police Department over racial disparities in fatal shootings by police.
Robart’s friends and colleagues describe him as a community-minded man with a special commitment to the young and vulnerable, having fostered multiple children with his wife. Trump’s attack on Robart drew a swift response from U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and who voted for Robart’s confirmation.
“The president’s hostility toward the rule of law is not just embarrassing, it is dangerous. He seems intent on precipitating a constitutional crisis,” Leahy said in a statement. “And now he is attempting to bully and disparage yet another federal judge — this one appointed by a Republican president and confirmed by a Republican Senate — for having the audacity to do his job and apply the rule of the law.”
Robart received his undergraduate degree from Whitman College in Washington state, and his law degree at Georgetown. He applied for a seat on the bench, received a unanimous “well-qualified” rating from the American Bar Association, and was recommended for the position by both his state’s senators at the time.
During his brief confirmation hearing in early 2004, Robart faced little questioning from senators about his history, temperament or views on the law. Leahy at the time complained he felt Republicans were rushing through nominees too quickly, given their reluctance to confirm nominations made previously by former President Clinton.
Speaking to senators, Robart noted he served as an aide to former U.S. Sens. Scoop Jackson (a Democrat) and Mark Hatfield (a Republican) before joining a private law firm in his home state of Washington, rising to become the firm's sole managing partner.
In his testimony, Robart said he saw the law as a way to help people who feel they’ve been wronged, or that the odds are unfairly stacked against them. As part of his firm’s commitment to providing free legal services, Robart said he often assisted Southeast Asian immigrants with legal problems at no cost.
“Working with people who have an immediate need and an immediate problem that you are able to help with is the most satisfying aspect in the practice of law,” he told the Judiciary Committee in 2004. “If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed by the Senate, I will take that experience to the courtroom with me, recognizing that you need to treat everyone with dignity and respect, and to engage them so that when they leave the courtroom they feel like that had a fair trial and that they were treated as a participant in the system.”
During a hearing last year, Robart strongly criticized the Seattle police union after citing FBI statistics showing that blacks were disproportionally killed by police officers: "Forty-one percent of the casualties, 20% people of the population… black lives matter," Robart said, sighing and shaking his head, according to a video recording of his ruling.
Robart criticized the police union for rejecting a new contract because officers felt they weren’t being paid enough to follow new rules intended to make their conduct less racially biased and more constitutional.
“This court, and the citizens of Seattle, will not be held hostage for payment of increase compensation and benefits to be afforded protections guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States of America,” Robart said. “I don’t know how to be any more direct than that.”