Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. issued a rare statement Wednesday to rebuke Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer for what Roberts called “threatening” and “dangerous” statements directed at the two justices named by President Trump. The president soon weighed in as well, with a tweet.
The chief justice was responding to a widely circulated video of Schumer, a New York Democrat, speaking at a rally outside the court as the justices, including Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, were hearing arguments in a major abortion case.
Turning as if to address the court and the justices, Schumer said: “I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh. You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”
Gorsuch and Kavanaugh were confirmed by the Senate in Trump’s first two years, despite opposition from Schumer and his fellow Democrats.
Later in the day, after conservatives had excoriated Schumer for hours on social media, Roberts issued his statement quoting Schumer’s words and noting that the Democrat had cited two justices by name.
“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,” Roberts said. “All members of the court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter.”
About two hours later, Trump wrote on Twitter: “This is a direct & dangerous threat to the U.S. Supreme Court by Schumer. If a Republican did this, he or she would be arrested, or impeached. Serious action MUST be taken NOW!”
Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer, said the senator’s comments “were a reference to the political price Senate Republicans will pay for putting these justices on the court, and a warning that the justices will unleash a major grass-roots movement on the issue of reproductive rights against the decision.”
He noted that Roberts did not speak out last week after Trump criticized Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, both nominated by Democratic presidents, as biased. The president did so in a tweet and at news briefing while he was in New Delhi, without offering specifics. “I just don’t know how they cannot recuse themselves for anything Trump or Trump-related,” he told reporters.
Sotomayor had issued a solo dissent in a case a few days earlier that criticized her conservative colleagues for frequently granting the administration’s emergency appeals, clearing the way for disputed regulations to take effect. She did not criticize Trump or his administration directly, but conservative news outlet described her comments as an attack on the administration.
Schumer’s spokesman added: “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 Ginsburg last week, shows Justice Roberts does not just call balls and strikes.”
By that last phrase, Goodman was tweaking Roberts, who in his Senate confirmation hearing in 2005 famously compared the job of an impartial judge to that of an umpire calling balls and strikes.