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6 times when presidents besides Trump weighed in on court rulings

6 times when presidents besides Trump weighed in on court rulings
President Trump, shown Wednesday in Washington, has aimed vitriol at sitting judges. (Pool Photo)

President Trump's effort Wednesday to influence the federal appeals judges who are considering whether to reinstate his restrictions on entry into the U.S. was notable for both the highly public setting — a televised speech — and the vitriol that Trump aimed at sitting judges still deciding the case.

Here's how it compares with other recent presidents weighing in on pending court cases, ranging from cajoling to avoiding the topic altogether.

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Lyndon Johnson, Civil Rights Act

In a speech at a dinner in Cleveland, Johnson lamented the struggles of implementing the 1964 Civil Rights Act while a challenge to the law — a case known as Heart of Atlanta Motel vs. United States — sat before the court. He did not comment on the case itself.

"It is now in the Supreme Court and we have had lots of difficulty with it, but we have tried to be patient and we have tried to be understanding."

The court would go on to decide that the Constitution gave the government the power to force businesses to comply with the Civil Rights Act.

Jimmy Carter, affirmative action

Asked during a Q&A about Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke, which challenged affirmative action, Carter pointed to the separation of powers in avoiding comment.

"It's in the hands of the Supreme Court and we have filed our position, that there's nothing additionally that we would do until after the Supreme Court rules."

Ronald Reagan, separation of powers

Bowsher vs. Synar, a case that challenged a key provision of the Gramm-Rudman budget-balancing act, produced a landmark decision on the separation of powers itself. Reagan opened a news conference by remarking on a recent lower-court ruling in the case but chose to steer the conversation to the underlying issue, the federal budget.

"We await a final Supreme Court decision, but nothing the court says should or will remove our obligation to bring overspending under control."

George H.W. Bush, abortion

On the day that an abortion-related case, Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services, was argued before the Supreme Court, Bush was asked about it at a news conference but demurred. When a reporter pressed him, Bush, who had spoken out multiple times against abortion, hinted that he wanted to make his position known but stopped short of stating it plainly.

"I hate to not respond to your question," he said. "But the court is probably going to make a decision very soon, and I would prefer to address myself to the question after the court has decided."

Barack Obama, Affordable Care Act

Obama was the first president to make a persistent public push for his side of a pending court case; his landmark healthcare law hung in the balance.

But his tone was subtler than Trump.

First, during a news conference in 2012, Obama, who once taught constitutional law, urged justices to respect the separation of powers.

"I'm confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress," he said.

Obama followed up a day later by suggesting the justices follow precedent. "I expect the Supreme Court actually to — to recognize that and to abide by well-established precedents out there," he said.

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His persistence marked a departure for the presidency, Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law, wrote in his book "Unraveled."

"Very few presidents have spoken about pending Supreme Court cases after arguments were submitted. Even fewer discussed the merits of the cases," Blackman wrote. "Only a handful could be seen as preemptively faulting the justices for ruling against the government."

The Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the Obama administration in the case, National Federation of Independent Business vs. Sebelius, as it would later in King vs. Burwell.

Obama, money in politics

The Affordable Care Act was not Obama's first venture into court commentary, though. He also used one of the president's most high-profile venues to address a ruling: the State of the Union.

In addressing lawmakers in late January 2010, Obama criticized the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission of a few days earlier that held that corporations had the same right to free speech as people. The court's conservative majority concluded that the government thus could not stop corporations from spending on candidates.

"With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections," Obama said. "I'd urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems."

Obama drew applause from Democrats, but an immediate rebuke from one justice who was present: Samuel Alito shook his head and mouthed "not true" as Obama spoke.

As a senator, Obama had voted against Alito's confirmation in 2006.

Twitter: @amyfiscus

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12:40 p.m., Feb. 9: This story was updated with Obama's comments on the Citizens United ruling.

This story was originally published at  3:20 p.m. on Feb. 8.

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