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Fact check: Trump errs on the court system

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump misstated how the federal court system works in a trio of tweets Wednesday about a judge who blocked his order to penalize cities that don’t cooperate with U.S. immigration officials. It was the third time in two months that a federal judge has knocked down a Trump order dealing with immigration.

TRUMP: “First the Ninth Circuit rules against the ban & now it hits again on sanctuary cities-both ridiculous rulings. See you in the Supreme Court.”

THE FACTS: Trump seems to be jumping ahead of the judicial process. The judge who ruled Tuesday against Trump’s order withholding federal money from so-called sanctuary cities is a single federal District Judge, William Orrick in San Francisco, not the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court may yet side against him, and the case may end up at the Supreme Court, but it hasn’t happened yet.

TRUMP: “They used to call this ‘judge shopping!’ Messy system.”

THE FACTS: It’s hard to argue that this was judge-shopping. The two local governments that sued to block Trump’s order, San Francisco and Santa Clara County, are in California and therefore routinely filed in the court in their neighborhood. And they don’t get to choose a judge; that’s assigned through a system that more resembles a lottery.

TRUMP: The 9th Circuit has “a terrible record of being overturned (close to 80 percent).”

THE FACTS: That’s misleading. The nature of the appeals system means that most circuits have high rates of being overturned. The fact the Supreme Court agrees to hear a case means it’s likely to overturn it. But other circuits have seen their decisions overturned at a higher rate.

In the most recent full term, the Supreme Court did reverse eight of the 11 cases it heard from the San Francisco-based court. But the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit went 0 for 3 — that is, the Supreme Court reversed all three cases it heard from there. And over the past five years, five federal appeals courts were reversed at a higher rate than the 9th Circuit.

The 9th is by far the largest of the 13 federal courts of appeals, which means that in raw numbers, more cases are heard and reversed from the 9th Circuit year in and year out. But as a percentage of cases the Supreme Court hears, the liberal-leaning circuit fares somewhat better, according to statistical compilations by the legal website Scotusblog.

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