Republican Judges Condemn Trump’s Intimidation Tactics

The rule of law is under seige.

WaPo, (“Republican-appointed judges raise alarm over Trump attacks on law“):

A Republican-appointed judge denounced Donald Trump’s social media attacks against the judge presiding over the former president’s hush money trial in Manhattan and his daughter, calling them assaults on the rule of law that could lead to violence and tyranny.

“When judges are threatened, and particularly when their family is threatened, it’s something that’s wrong and should not happen,” U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins in a live interview Thursday. He added, “It is very troubling because I think it is an attack on the rule of law.”

The unusual media statement by a sitting federal judge came after Trump blasted New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan and his daughter, Loren Merchan, criticizing her affiliation with a digital marketing company that works with Democratic candidates and erroneously attributing to her a social media post showing Trump behind bars.

Walton, who was appointed by presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush to courts in Washington in 1981 and 1991, said “any reasonable, thinking person” would appreciate the impact of Trump’s rhetoric on some followers, intentional or not. The judge recalled how a disgruntled litigant killed the son and wounded the husband of New Jersey federal Judge Esther Salas at her home in a 2020 shooting.

Since late 2020, as Trump began escalating his attacks on the judiciary, serious investigated threats against federal judges have more than doubled, from 224 in 2021 to 457 in 2023, according to the U.S. Marshals Service, as first reported by Reuters. Federal judges in Washington say at least half of trial judges handling cases arising from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol have received a surge in threats and harassment, including death threats to their homes, with Trump’s election obstruction trial judge, Tanya S. Chutkan, placed under 24-hour protection.

“The rule of rule of law can only be maintained if we have independent judicial officers who are able to do their job and ensure that the laws are in fact enforced and that the laws are applied equally to everybody who appears in our courthouse,” Walton told CNN. He was prompted to speak out of concern for the “future of our country and the future of democracy in our country,” Walton said, “because if we don’t have a viable court system that’s able to function efficiently, then we have tyranny.”

Walton’s remarks came as several federal judges in Washington appointed by Republican presidents have spoken with increasing urgency about Trump’s disregard for historical facts and alarmed at his increasingly graphic and at times violent description of defendants prosecuted in the Jan. 6 riot as “political prisoners” and “hostages” who did nothing wrong.

“In my 37 years on the bench, I cannot recall a time when such meritless justifications of criminal activity have gone mainstream,” U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth said in a January sentencing. “I have been dismayed to see distortions and outright falsehoods seep into the public consciousness.”

U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan similarly told a group of Georgetown Law School students in January that false claims that riot defendants were acting like tourists or patriots were destructive rewriting of reality. “There’s a danger that is embedded now in our communities across the country,” Hogan said.

“And we have to wonder where this is going to end up if that’s part of our history, this fraudulent story” by Trump that the 2020 election was stolen. Hogan spoke shortly after his retirement after completing 40 years on the bench and sentencing 26 Jan. 6 riot defendants.

Hogan and Lamberth were both appointed by Reagan, and both served as chief judges of the U.S. District Court in Washington, where judges have presided over more than 1,350 prosecutions for the riot that resulted after Trump urged his supporters to march to the Capitol where Congress was certifying the results of the 2020 election.


Several of the 23 D.C. federal judges who have sentenced Jan. 6 defendants have noted Trump’s role in events, including judges appointed by presidents of both parties. But the recent statements by appointees of Trump’s GOP predecessors is notable in breaking with partisan affiliation. After one Jan. 6 trial last year, Walton called Trump a “charlatan” who led followers into believing unfounded allegations and falsehoods, and who “doesn’t in my view really care about democracy but only about power. And as a result of that, it’s tearing this country apart.”

All three judges have warned of a significant increase in the number of threats they and other judges have faced since the Capitol attack, which Walton called “very, very very concerning.”

“I’ve been a judge for over 40 years. And, this is a new phenomenon. I’m not saying that it didn’t happen before, but it was very rare that I would ever receive any type of a threat,” Walton said. “And unfortunately, that is no longer, the case.”

Hogan told law students threats had increased, “no question about it, I think encouraged by the prior president, unfortunately.”

“I would say half our judges have been seriously threatened” regarding their handling of cases related to Trump, Hogan said in a Jan. 22 law school talk. “It makes you nervous.”

Which, of course, is precisely the point.

It really is a shameful practice and one Trump has engaged in openly for years. It would be shocking were it any other prominent politician but it tends to get written off as “Trump being Trump.” Indeed, I suspect most anyone else would be jailed for contempt of court.

Judges are understandably reluctant to speak out in this manner, as they will naturally be accused of being partisan actors given who Trump is. That it’s longtime Republican judges (indeed, most of them are in senior status) moots that somewhat and makes the message more powerful.

As much as commentators from the left want to point to seeds of Trumpism in the so-called Southern Strategy, a difference in degree can become a difference in kind. Indeed, as much as Richard Nixon abused the power of his office, he ultimately respected the rule of law. And I certainly can’t imagine Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, or Mitt Romney doing so many of the things Trump has done, with inciting riots and threatening judges and their families right at the top of that list.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. charontwo says:

    Trump loves spectating violence that he has stirred up on his behalf, always has.

    One might there could be a downside to doing this to the judge assigned to your own felony trial, but cognitively impaired Trump does not think things through very well.

    As dementia progresses, peoples’ behavior tends to narrow to doing mostly what is most habitual, and this is prominent in what Trump is accustomed to doing.

  2. Cheryl Rofer says:

    The Southern Strategy has always included lynching.

  3. charontwo says:

    There was a Christian Nationalist group called “Jericho March” prominently active at the Jan. 6, 2021 festivities. I think the extreme right is trending violent even without Trump, but Trump is providing synergy.

  4. Michael Cain says:


    One might there could be a downside to doing this to the judge assigned to your own felony trial, but cognitively impaired Trump does not think things through very well.

    There’s another Trump tactic that protects him in these situations: the apparently unlimited number of procedural motions and appeals allowed by our court system. Judges are going to cut Trump a lot of slack on contempt sorts of things because if they don’t, the trial gets put on hold while Trump’s lawyers appeal, and appeal, and appeal.

  5. Kevin says:

    It should be noted that there are three judges on the Supreme Court who could really make a difference in upholding the rule of law, and speaking out against people who would undermine it, if they really wanted to.

  6. charontwo says:

    @Michael Cain:

    There’s another Trump tactic that protects him in these situations: the apparently unlimited number of procedural motions and appeals allowed by our court system.

    In the NY case that starts April 15, the judge has ordered that any further appeals do not happen unless approved by him. (This being a judge that Team Trump has managed to get really pissed off).


  7. steve says:

    Lets see. If your daughter works for a company that does some work for Democrats you are a horribly biased judge. But if you are a judge whose wife is a paid political activist who helped try to overthrow the govt and also took 100s of thousands dollars without reporting it from “friends” that is perfectly OK. Got it.


  8. charontwo says:


    Pretrial detention, MSN

    “You know, there actually is an answer to this problem,” said Kirschner. “There is a solution, but none of the institutions of government, none of the judges, none of the prosecutors have thus far been willing to do it. In 30 years, every single time I had a grand jury return felony charges against the defendant, I had a decision to make. I had to decide whether to file a motion for pretrial detention. The only factors that entered into that decision were, is there clear and convincing evidence that the defendant is a danger to the community or even one person in the community? If the answer to that question was yes, I was obliged to file a motion for pretrial detention. I was obliged to do it to protect the victim. I was obliged to do it to protect the community. And I knew that it was a lawful vehicle to mitigate the danger.”

  9. charontwo says:

    @Paul L.:

    You would know if you were following the case. Do your own research.

    ETA: Whatever, DNFTT.

  10. Gustopher says:

    I understand why Judges don’t want to make the historic ruling tossing Trump’s ass in jail for contempt of court, but unless he faces real consequences, he’s just going to continue to do this shit.

    At least drag him into court, in person, every single time and make him explain himself. He’ll get tired of that before long.

  11. Jen says:

    @Paul L.:

    Nice dishonest bad faith framing
    “works for a company that does some work for Democrats” v. “a paid political activist”

    Nothing dishonest or bad faith about it. The judge’s daughter works for a digital marketing firm that does work for Democrats. Ginni Thomas is a paid political activist. Neither of these statements is dishonest, nor made in bad faith.

  12. Gustopher says:


    Do your own research.

    We really need to teach people how to do research. There are people who believe that reading something from zerohedge or infowars or whatever is “research”.

  13. CSK says:


    Absolutely. The babble on any crackpot semi-literate blog will serve as “research” to the MAGAs.

  14. Jen says:

    @Paul L.:This comment proves that you have no idea how political campaigns work.

    There are Republican PR firms, direct mail firms, marketing companies, and polling companies. Same on the Democratic side.

    That’s because you have to turn over a BUNCH of sensitive data, and no one truly trusts so-called purple firms.

  15. DK says:


    The judge’s daughter works for a digital marketing firm that does work for Democrats. Ginni Thomas is a paid political activist.

    True, but even if the judge’s daughter was an insurrection activist like Ginni the Traitor Thomas it would have no bearing on this case, which is about Trump breaking canpaign law with illegal hush money payments. The judge’s daughter’s work is irrelevant to that.

    Getting down in the weeds of what the judge’s daughter does and doesn’t do is what MAGA wants, because it dignifies their desperate distraction tactics. It’s all meant to change the subject from these realities:

    – Trump is a rapist and career criminal who belongs in prison.
    – Trump is a stochastic terrorist shamefully inciting violence against innocents — just as he did with the deadly Jan 6 insurrection.
    – Trump is unqualified for every job in America, including the presidency.

    The judge’s daughter’s job isn’t going to make Trump any less guilty. Or any less of a thug and loser who appeals to dumb and/or dishonest deplorables who hate themselves.

    I do love the taste of Trumpanzee desperation.

  16. Gustopher says:

    @CSK: When lefties “do their own research” the results are not that much better.

    I don’t like to “both sides” things, but “jet fuel doesn’t burn hot enough to melt girders” and “vaccines cause autism” circulated on the left for ages.

    I am constantly pruning my YouTube recommendations and Twitter crud to remove lefty fear mongering and rage bait (along with the usual misogyny and antiwoke drivel that floats in from the right), along with randomly checking facts on news and opinion sites, podcasts and newspapers.

    I expect most people don’t do that pruning and just settle in as their sources of information slowly meander to crazy town.

    I don’t know whether information and infotainment is getting worse for everyone, whether it is specifically getting worse for me, or whether I am losing patience with bullshit. I hope it’s the last one, as that would be the least harmful for America’s information infrastructure.

    Alternately, the climate is well and truly fucked, the economy is well and truly fucked, the developing countries are well and truly fucked, queer folk are well and truly fucked, and these are reasonable people reporting truth, and I want to bury my head in the sand.

  17. EddieInCA says:


    One thing that I won’t understand, because IANAL, but why is he allowed to misbehave so much when HES OUT ON BAIL? Most defendants can’t flout the law the way he does when they’re on bail. Why can’t one of the judges revoke his bail and put his ass in jail until he agrees to behave?

    Additionally, why don’t we, and all media, keep reminding the electorate that one of the presidential candidates is OUT ON BAIL! It’s eomthing I’ll be trumpeting (no pun intended) as much as possible the next 8 months.

  18. Gustopher says:


    The judge’s daughter’s job isn’t going to make Trump any less guilty. Or any less of a thug and loser who appeals to dumb and/or dishonest deplorables who hate themselves.

    If there is reason to believe that the judge is unduly influenced by his daughter’s political views or employment, there are legal remedies — Team Trump can go to the appellate court to try to get another judge, etc.

    No such remedy exists for the Supreme Court.

    (Also, a daughter is not a wife, and working for a Democratic PR firm is not the same as texting everyone QAnon conspiracy crap, etc.)

    I would be very pleased with the trial judge if he limited Trump’s speech about him and his family to briefs filed in the appellate courts. Or if he required the lawyers to sign off on any tweets, twuths, etc.

  19. Gustopher says:


    Why can’t one of the judges revoke his bail and put his ass in jail until he agrees to behave?

    Fear of retaliation from Trump’s deranged fan base?

  20. Gavin says:

    It’s quite frustrating to me that only Trump caused people to realize that the entire conservative movement has been a threat to the rule of law for decades.. and thus the reason the Old School Republicans don’t like him is only because his actions and words rip off the various verbal excuses and media games they’d been playing for decades.
    Leonard Leo and the Fed Society have been openly anti-American for my entire adult life….. but have received crickets of pushback due to the strategy of the current Chief Justice of boiling the frog slowly.
    Trump’s policies and legal actions differ precisely zero from Mainstream Republican Thought….. and that’s what should be focused on rather than his daily toddler-in-a-suit outbursts such as the intimidation inspiring this thread. All Republicans think no laws apply to them — and so I’m only shocked these Trump intimidation attempts are as publicized as they are. The reality is that this same level of intimidation [threats on life, threats to family, etc] happen each time a Republican is put on trial.