Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) threatened Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh Wednesday, and Chief Justice John Roberts was quick to show his displeasure. “You have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price,” Sen. Schumer said at a pro-choice rally as the Court heard June Medical Services LLC v Russo, a case about abortion access in Louisiana. “You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.” Was the threat mere political rhetoric, or something more?
Justice Roberts took the extraordinary action of condemning Sen. Schumer’s words. He wrote:
“This morning, Senator Schumer spoke at a rally in front of the Supreme Court while a case was being argued inside. 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.”
Justin Goodman, a spokesperson for the senator, claimed the Chief Justice willfully misrepresented Schumer’s statement. “For Justice Roberts to follow the right wing’s deliberate misinterpretation of what Senator 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,” Goodman said.
For his part, President Trump tweeted out his own political threat Wednesday night to the senior senator from New York:
“There can be few things worse in a civilized, law-abiding nation than a United States Senator openly and for all to see and hear, threatening the Supreme Court or its Justices. This is what Chuck Schumer just did. He must pay a severe price for this!”
Chief Justice Roberts, who just presided over the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump, made headlines in 2018 for defending the independent judiciary against the president. “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” he said. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”
Statements from the Chief Justice outside of regular casework are seldom made, and almost never address political issues.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.