This was probably not the kind of week that Donald Trump and his followers imagined when he appointed Neil Gorsuch and then Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, giving the court what appeared to be a solid 5-4 conservative majority for years to come, with the George W. Bush appointee, Chief Justice John Roberts, leading the way.
The first blow came on Monday, when the court ruled 6-3 that a landmark civil rights law from the 1960s protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination, handing the LGBTQ+ equality movement an historic and unexpected victory.
Until Monday’s decision, it was legal in more than half of the states to fire workers for being gay, bisexual or transgender.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was who wrote the majority opinion: Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch. "In Title VII, Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee’s sex when deciding to fire that employee," Gorsuch wrote in the 33-page opinion. "We do not hesitate to recognize today a necessary consequence of that legislative choice: An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law."
The Trump administration had urged the court to rule against gay and transgender workers and has not been known as an advocate for gay rights over the course of the past three-and-a-half years. It has has barred most transgender people from serving in the military, and just last week, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a regulation on Friday that undid protections for transgender patients against discrimination by doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies.
Although many members of the Trump administration spoke out against the ruling, the president's own reaction was surprisingly subdued. In brief remarks to reporters, Trump said he accepted the ruling. “I’ve read the decision,” he said, “and some people were surprised, but they’ve ruled and we live with their decision.” Surprisingly, he did not take to Twitter to lash out at his appointee, which has been in pattern in the past when the president feels crossed.
That did stop others from doing so. “All those evangelicals who sided with Trump in 2016 to protect them from the cultural currents, just found their excuse to stay home in 2020 thank to Trump’s Supreme Court picks,” Erick Erickson, a conservative radio host and blogger, wrote on Twitter.
Gorsuch came to the court after the arch-conservative Antonin Scalia died in 2016, and Kavanaugh succeeded Anthony Kennedy, who — until Monday — had written all of the court's gay rights rulings until he retired in 2018.
"The LGBT community was panic-stricken that the retirement of their hero, Justice Kennedy, would cause them to suffer a huge setback in the Supreme Court. Instead, it's a massive victory," SCOTUSblog publisher Tom Goldstein, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who argues frequently before the court, told the Washington Post. "The irony here is that the most conservative Trump appointee writes the sweeping opinion, while Kavanaugh, who the left had more hopes for, is with the dissenters," Goldstein added.
Then on Thursday, the Supreme Court surprised again, voting 5-4, to block the Trump administration's plan to end the DACA program. That program, known formally as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, protects nearly 700,000 young immigrants and was one of the signature achievements of the Barack Obama administration and one that Trump had vowed, from his early days as a candidate, to revoke when he became president.
Both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh voted with the minority this time, but John Roberts not only joined the four justices from the liberal wing, he also wrote the majority opinion, keeping the ruling to narrow technical grounds. “We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” the chief justice wrote. “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.”
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas, said the majority had been swayed by emotion and politics, not the rule of law. In a dissent, he wrote, “Today’s decision must be recognized for what it is: an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision." He added: “In doing so, it has given the green light for future political battles to be fought in this court rather than where they rightfully belong — the political branches.”
The ruling immediate drew criticism from Republican lawmakers, including Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, noting the two back-to-back rebukes to the Trump administration. "The most disappointing week at #SCOTUS in years," the senator tweeted.
And this time Trump did not back off. "Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?" the president tweeted roughly an hour after the DACA ruling was made public. In another tweet, he added: "These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives. We need more Justices or we will lose our 2nd. Amendment & everything else. Vote Trump 2020!"In new book, former National Security Advisor John Bolton reportedly calls President Trump, ““stunningly uninformed.”Getty Images
Meanwhile, in between these two rulings came John Bolton and leaked details from his upcoming tell-all about serving Trump as National Security Advisor for 17 months.
The book, The Room Where It Happened, has gotten some scathing reviews for its lack of literary quality (The New York Times said "it toggles between two discordant registers: exceedingly tedious and slightly unhinged") but has nonetheless created headlines with its supposed revelations. Among them:
Trump was outfoxed by Vladimir Putin: According to Bolton, Trump's summit with the Russian president in Helsinki was a “self-inflicted wound” and “Putin had to be laughing uproariously at what he had gotten away with in Helsinki.” (In a follow-up interview with ABC News, Bolton doubled-down on that assessment. “I think Putin thinks he can play him like a fiddle," Bolton told Martha Raddatz. "I think Putin is smart, tough. I think he sees that he's not faced with a serious adversary here. I don't think he's worried about Donald Trump.")
He is not a student of geopolitics: Bolton calls Trump “stunningly uninformed" about foreign affairs, saying the president expressed surprise during a visit with then-British Prime Minister Theresa May when told that Great Britain was a nuclear power, seemed to think Finland was a part of Russia and thought it might be “cool” to invade Venezuela.
Some of his closest advisers apparently think he is an idiot: During the president’s 2018 meeting with North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, according to the book, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slipped Bolton a note disparaging the president, saying, “He is so full of shit.” A month later, Bolton reportedly writes, Mr. Pompeo dismissed the president’s North Korea diplomacy, declaring that there was “zero probability of success.”
That Ukraine phone call might not have been "perfect" after all: According to reports, Bolton writes that there was no doubt that Trump tried to link his suspension of $391 million in security aid for Ukraine to his demands that Ukraine publicly announce investigations into supposed wrongdoing by Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden.
Naturally, Trump has not taken these revelations well. He sharply criticized Bolton on Sean Hannity's show on Fox Wednesday, calling him a "washed up guy" who had broken the law by publishing this book, and telling The Wall Street Journal that Bolton was "liar" who “everybody in the White House hated.” The next day the president sent out a series of tweets attacking Bolton including one that claimed the book was an act of revenge. "Bolton’s book, which is getting terrible reviews, is a compilation of lies and made up stories, all intended to make me look bad," Trump tweeted. "Many of the ridiculous statements he attributes to me were never made, pure fiction. Just trying to get even for firing him like the sick puppy he is!"
By the way the week isn't over yet. On Saturday, the president heads to Tulsa for an indoor rally in the middle of a pandemic that is supposed attract nearly 20,000 people. What can possibly go wrong?