Citing Orwell, Judge Rules against Trump

Scene from Animal Farm


George Orwell made an appearance yesterday when a judge ruled that White House employees cannot blow off Congress. You probably can guess which line from Animal Farm the judge cited.

I turn to Talking Points Memo for an overview of the ruling:

A federal judge ruled Monday that President Trump does not have the power to block former White House Counsel Don McGahn from showing up for compelled testimony in front of Congress.

In a 120-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of Washington ruled: “Executive branch officials are not absolutely immune from compulsory congressional process — no matter how many times the Executive branch has asserted as much over the years — even if the President expressly directs such officials’ non-compliance.”

The judge said that “no one is above the law.”

Judge Jackson accused the Department of Justice of obstructing Congressional oversight, thereby “transgress[ing] core constitutional truths.” The right to absolute immunity, she ruled, “simply does not exist,” “simply has no basis in law,” is “a fiction,” and “substantially harms the national interest.”

Footnote 11 reads, “For a similar vantage point [to the DOJ’s claim], see the circumstances described by George Orwell in the acclaimed book Animal Farm.” Judge Jackson then spells out the passage she has in mind: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

The quote, it’s worth recalling, appears after the pigs have been chipping away at the Constitution. The novel’s version of absolute immunity suddenly appears on the barn wall:

Benjamin felt a nose nuzzling at his shoulder. He looked round. It was Clover. Her old eyes looked dimmer than ever. Without saying anything, she tugged gently at his mane and led him round to the end of the big barn, where the Seven Commandments were written. For a minute or two they stood gazing at the tatted wall with its white lettering.

“My sight is failing,” she said finally. “Even when I was young I could not have read what was written there. But it appears to me that that wall looks different. Are the Seven Commandments the same as they used to be, Benjamin?”

For once Benjamin consented to break his rule, and he read out to her what was written on the wall. There was nothing there now except a single Commandment. It ran:


What follows illustrates why the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry has been necessary. When rules are broken, the new order becomes normalized if we do not stand firm. Notice what no longer “seem[s] strange” once the animals of Animal Farm become used to it:

After that it did not seem strange when next day the pigs who were supervising the work of the farm all carried whips in their trotters. It did not seem strange to learn that the pigs had bought themselves a wireless set, were arranging to install a telephone, and had taken out subscriptions to John Bull, Tit-Bits, and the Daily Mirror. It did not seem strange when Napoleon was seen strolling in the farmhouse garden with a pipe in his mouth–no, not even when the pigs took Mr. Jones’s clothes out of the wardrobes and put them on, Napoleon himself appearing in a black coat, ratcatcher breeches, and leather leggings, while his favorite sow appeared in the watered silk dress which Mrs. Jones had been used to wearing on Sundays.

In her ruling, Judge Jackson said what should not need to be said:

Stated simply, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings. This means that they do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control. Rather, in this land of liberty, it is indisputable that current and former employees of the White House work for the People of the United States, and that they take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

No doubt you thought these truths were self-evident. In moments of constitutional crisis, we find ourselves revisiting the visions of the founders.

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