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Trump travel ban judge James Robart: A soft-spoken jurist who minces no words

Don Melvin

Protesters rally during a demonstration against the travel ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City.
Getty Images

Federal Judge James L. Robart, who brought President Donald Trump's attempt to block people from certain countries from entering the United States to a screeching halt, has lived much of his life out of the spotlight.

Until now.

Robart's ruling Friday that temporarily invalidates Trump's effort to block entry into America to citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries elicited a response from the president, who rarely lets any slight go unanswered.

And sure enough, Trump's retort was quick to come: On Saturday morning, the president tweeted that the decision of this "so-called judge" would not stand.

Trump tweet

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What little is known of Robart, who's based out of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington state, suggests that he is a soft-spoken yet fearless man — someone of deep convictions and a jurist who does not mince words.

He suggested in court that Trump's 90-day entry ban on people from the countries of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen was not "rationally based," since no one from any those countries had been arrested in the U.S. on terrorism-related charges since 9/11.

Robart was born in Seattle in 1947, which would make him 69 or 70, according to a federal court informational site. He seems to have spent much of his life near home in Washington state.

He graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla in 1969. And while he did go to law school in that other Washington — Washington, D.C. — he returned to the city of his birth to practice law from 1973 to 2004.

He was nominated by President George W. Bush to be a federal judge in the Western District of Washington late in 2003 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in June 2004.

His rulings are replete with the legalese that routinely marks judicial orders — references to "all of the foregoing" and "declaratory and injunctive relief," and the like.

But when he speaks aloud from the bench, it seems he makes no effort to avoid politically charged language.

Last August, in a case in which the U.S. government sued the city of Seattle, alleging excessive use of force by police, Robart spoke softly but emotionally from the bench.

"The importance, to me, of this issue is best demonstrated by the news, which was much reported again today," the judge said shaking his head, his voice trembling with emotion.

"According to FBI statistics, police shootings resulting in deaths involve 41 percent black people despite being only 20 percent of the population living in those cities. Forty-one percent of the casualties, 20 percent of the population," he said.

He sighed deeply, and then added, in a phrase laden with political significance: "Black lives matter."

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