With lifetime appointments, protected salaries, and high standards for impeachment, federal judges are largely insulated from the pressure that politicians and others can bring to bear in attempts to coerce rulings in their favor. The federal judiciary’s independence also has been strengthened by taking responsibility for its own administration, rather than relying on various executive-branch departments, as it did until the early 20th century. Perhaps most importantly, the courts enjoy a relatively high degree of public trust. For decades, America’s judiciary has been the most trusted of the three branches of government. Judiciaries elsewhere do not enjoy that same trust and independence.
Earlier this year, Russia’s constitutional court rubber-stamped a constitutional amendment allowing President Vladimir Putin to remain in power until 2036—despite the protests of more than 350 lawyers, journalists, and scientists who called the Putin-backed scheme an unlawful, anti-constitutional coup. In Turkey, under the authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, there has been a concerted attack on the independence of the judiciary, leading to a purge of those not seen as loyal to the Erdoğan regime. Egypt’s judiciary has been deemed by international observers a tool of repression in that country. And in Hong Kong, China’s Communist Party has begun cracking down on that city’s independent judiciary.
By contrast, the hallmarks of the U.S. judicial system have been on impressive display in response to the Trump campaign’s recent attacks. In Pennsylvania, Judge Matthew Brann, a former Republican Party official appointed by President Barack Obama, listened to arguments from Trump’s lawyers that the results of the presidential election in the state should be overturned, before ruling that Trump had provided no evidence of voter fraud in Pennsylvania. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion written by Judge Stephanos Bibas, a Trump-appointed judge, upheld Brann’s decision. In Michigan, State Court Judge Timothy M. Kenny rejected Trump allies’ voter-fraud claims, ruling that they had no evidentiary basis and were rife with speculation and guesswork about sinister motives. Collectively, these judges have dismissed Trump’s undemocratic attempt to overturn the will of the people.
Trump’s initial litigation strategy—to retroactively suppress the votes of those, mostly minorities, who likely voted for Joe Biden—appears now to have failed in the courts. A fallback strategy, confirmed by the president on Twitter, has been to delay certification of key states’ election results so the decision would be left to the House of Representatives. Under that scenario, each state would get one vote decided by a majority vote of the state’s congressional delegation. At this time, more than half of the delegations are majority Republican, so the House presumably would name Trump the winner.