SCOTUS chief justice rebukes Senate’s top Democrat for warning justices will ‘pay the price’

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John G. Roberts Jr.

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

In an unusual move, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. chastised Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer for remarks he made about President Donald Trump’s two nominees to the high court during a rally Wednesday.

In his statement, Roberts responded to Schumer’s attack on Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, in which the New York Democrat said the pair will “pay the price” if they voted against abortion rights in a case now before the court.

“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.”

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While speaking to abortion rights supporters, Schumer also told Gorsuch and Kavanaugh that “you won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”

According to the Washington Post, he added: “We will tell President Trump and Senate Republicans who have stacked the courts with right-wing ideologues that you’re going to be gone in November, and you’ll never be able to do what you’re trying to do now ever, ever again. You hear that over there on the far right? You’re gone in November.”

Trump and other members of the GOP criticized Schumer for his comments, while Democrats questioned why Roberts stayed silent when the president criticized Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg and called on them to recuse themselves from all cases concerning him last week.

ABA President Judy Perry Martinez also released a statement Wednesday that condemned Schumer’s remarks and contended that “whatever one thinks about the merits of an issue before a court, there is no place for threats—whether real or allegorical.”

“Personal attacks on judges by any elected officials, including the president, are simply inappropriate,” Martinez said. “Such comments challenge the reputation of the third, co-equal branch of our government; the independence of the judiciary; and the personal safety of judicial officers. They are never acceptable.”

Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer, told the Washington Post that the senator was not threatening the justices with violence.

“Senator Schumer’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 said.

Roberts rarely comments when elected officials criticize the judiciary, but according to the Washington Post, he last spoke out in November 2018 after Trump criticized an “Obama judge.”

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said at the time. “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.”

On Thursday, Schumer apologized for his statements, the Washington Post reported. “I should not have used the words I used yesterday,” the paper quotes Schumer saying. “They didn’t come out the way I intended them to. I’m from Brooklyn. We speak in strong language. I shouldn’t have used the words I did, but in no way was I making a threat. I never—never—would do such a thing.”

Updated at 11:41 a.m. to add Sen. Schumer’s apology.

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