Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts issued a rare condemnation of a sitting U.S. senator on Wednesday, ramping up an extant partisan feud amidst increasing perceptions by some that the nation’s high court is a rubberstamp for policies promulgated by President Donald Trump.
The somewhat unusual rebuke was a direct rejoinder to comments earlier made by Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
As Law&Crime previously reported, the New York Democrat singled out both of Trump’s appointed Supreme Court Justices—Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh—in a fiery speech at a reproductive rights rally earlier in the day. Critics, such as Schumer, say Gorsuch and Kavanaugh are both largely opposed to women’s bodily autonomy.
The Roberts statement set the scene.
“This morning, Senator Schumer spoke at a rally in front of the Supreme Court while a case was being argued inside,” the chief justice noted. “Senator Schumer referred to two Members of the Court by name and said he wanted to tell them that ‘You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You will not know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.'”
Justices know that criticism comes with the territory, but threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous. All Members of the Court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter.
Reproductive rights advocate Ilyse Hogue commented that Schumer’s line was merely an inversion of Kavanaugh’s own widely-denounced speech during his 2018 confirmation hearing—after being accused of sexual assault by multiple women.
“Faux outrage directed at [Schumer] for literally quoting Brett Kavanaugh falls flat when these same people who are so appalled fail to register any concern for a President who routinely threatens people from the largest platform in the world,” she noted. “Spare us the crocodile tears.”
“What selective outrage from Roberts” said Demand Justice founder Brian Fallon, a former Obama admin alum whose organization is focused on appointing left-wing judges to the federal bench and led opposition to Kavanaugh’s appointment. “He had zero to say in defense of his Democratic-appointed colleagues [Sonia] Sotomayor and [Ruth Bader Ginsburg] when Trump attacked them last month.”
Fallon was referencing the 45th president’s highly-publicized and widely-criticized (though not by Roberts) Twitter jabs against the two liberal female justices in late February.
“‘Sotomayor accuses GOP appointed Justices of being biased in favor of Trump,’” he wrote—quoting Fox News host Laura Ingraham. “This is a terrible thing to say. Trying to ‘shame’ some into voting her way? She never criticized Justice Ginsberg [sic] when she called me a ‘faker’. Both should recuse themselves on all Trump, or Trump related, matters!”
In light of that prior silence—and his judicial record—the chief justice’s decision to weigh in on Wednesday wasn’t treated as particularly puzzling or anomalous by his many critics.
“John Roberts is a partisan, his outrage is fake and partisan, the selective nature of it is evidence of that, and reporters should cover his statement accordingly,” said progressive communications strategist and research Jamison Foser. “John Roberts cast the deciding vote in striking down the Voting Rights Act, because he is a partisan Republican who shares his party’s preference for making it hard for black people to vote. Not really interested in lectures from him about what’s ‘dangerous’ in a democracy.”
“Every reporter who covers the Supreme Court knows that John Roberts was silent in the face of Trump’s attacks on Sotomayor [and] RBG last week,” Foser added in a later tweet. “The honest ones will make that a central part of their coverage of Roberts’ criticism of Schumer.”
The knocks against Roberts kept on coming.
“I’m afraid this is the year that the thin veneer of non-partisanship that somehow the Chief Justice has been able to maintain despite his record is once and for all obliterated,” said author and podcaster David Rothkopf. “This statement in the wake of silence over Trump attacks is pure, poisonous partisanship.”
“Did Roberts defend Sotomayor and RBG, or issue a similar statement, when Trump made up accusations against them based on something he saw on Fox News” tweeted writer David Freedlander.
Fallon went on to praise Schumer’s criticism of the two Trump-appointed justices.
“Schumer called out Kavanaugh and Gorsuch, who both paid lip service to respecting precedent in order to get confirmed by the Senate,” he said before referencing the abortion rights case being argued in the court on Wednesday. “If they vote to overturn the Whole Women’s Health ruling from 2016, they ought to expect a backlash not just from senators, but the public.”
Schumer, undeterred, later hit back at Roberts himself in a statement.
The Senate minority leader said: “For Justice Roberts to follow the right wing’s deliberate misinterpretation of what Sen. Schumer said, while remaining silent when President Trump attacked Justices Sotomayor and Ginsberg [sic] last week, shows Justice Roberts does not just call balls and strikes.”
Roberts has criticized Trump once before.
“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” the chief justice said in response to the president’s criticism of a lower court ruling blocking the administration from barring asylum seekers in late 2018. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”
But noting the chief justice’s singular moment of standing up to Trump isn’t likely to win him accolades from his seasoned detractors.
“John Roberts is leading a partisan Supreme Court majority put in place when Senate Republicans stole a seat on the court. GOP donors’ interests are 73-0 in 5/4 decisions with Roberts as chief justice,” Foser noted in another tweet. “Act like a partisan, get treated like one.”
[Image via Mario Tama/Getty Images.]