US chief justice rebukes Trump for slamming federal judiciary
But president shrugs off criticism over reference to 'Obama judge'
WASHINGTON: US Chief Justice John Roberts defended the independence of the judiciary on Wednesday after President Donald Trump called a judge who ruled against his policy barring asylum for certain immigrants an "Obama judge", but Mr Trump rejected the rebuke.
The remarks by Mr Roberts represented his first public response to Mr Trump over the Republican president's persistent criticism of federal courts.
Opponents of Mr Trump have called his criticism of judges an attack on the rule of law.
"We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges," Mr Roberts, a conservative who was appointed by Republican former President George W. Bush, said in a statement released by the Supreme Court in response to a media inquiry.
"What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for."
Mr Trump then tweeted: "Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have 'Obama judges,' and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country."
It is unusual for a US chief justice, who presides over the nine-member Supreme Court, to issue such a statement in response to a president.
The US Constitution established the federal judiciary as a co-equal branch of government with the executive and legislative branches as part of a system of checks and balances.
Presidents nominate federal judges and the Senate confirms them.
Mr Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University in Virginia, said Mr Roberts "is sending up a signal that Mr Trump has gone beyond the pale of responsible political discourse". He added: "For a long time the chief justice didn't respond... I suspect at some point Roberts decided enough was enough and he had to say something."
Mr Roberts, who administered the oath of office when the president was sworn in last year, has himself been the target of Mr Trump's attacks, in particular because of a 2012 ruling in favour of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
Mr Trump had tweeted after that: "Congratulations to John Roberts for making Americans hate the Supreme Court..."
Mr Trump on Tuesday took aim at US District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco, who temporarily blocked an order by the president barring asylum for immigrants who enter the country illegally from Mexico. Judge Tigar was appointed by Democratic former President Barack Obama. - REUTERS