John Roberts Condemns Schumer for Saying Justices ‘Will Pay the Price’ for ‘Awful Decisions’ 1

WASHINGTON — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who only very rarely responds to criticism of federal judges, issued a statement on Wednesday denouncing remarks made by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, at a rally outside the Supreme Court.

Mr. Schumer, speaking while the court heard arguments in a major abortion case, attacked President Trump’s two Supreme Court appointees, Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh. “You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price,” Mr. Schumer said. “You will not know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”

Chief Justice Roberts condemned Mr. Schumer’s remarks.

“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,” he said in a statement. “All members of the court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter.”

Mr. Trump later joined the criticism, accusing Mr. Schumer of making “a direct & dangerous threat to the U.S. Supreme Court.” He said on Twitter that if a Republican had made those remarks, “he or she would be arrested, or impeached.”

A spokesman for Mr. Schumer said the chief justice had engaged in a willful misrepresentation.

“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,” the spokesman, Justin Goodman, said in a 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,” he said.

That was a reference to a famous analogy proposed by Chief Justice Roberts at his confirmation hearings, comparing judges with umpires.

Last week, the chief justice declined to comment when the president called on Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, two liberal members of the court, to recuse themselves from all cases involving Mr. Trump.

Mr. Schumer’s remarks suggested that Democrats see a political advantage in criticizing the court, which they expect to issue consistently conservative decisions after the departure in 2018 of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. Chief Justice Roberts, for his part, insists that the court is not a political body.

In presiding over Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial this year, the chief justice got a taste of the venomous partisan warfare in Congress and did what he could to keep his distance. One of his tasks was to read questions submitted to him, even when they were directed at him.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts and a presidential candidate, had the chief justice recite this: “At a time when large majorities of Americans have lost faith in government, does the fact that the chief justice is presiding over an impeachment trial in which Republican senators have thus far refused to allow witnesses or evidence contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court and the Constitution?”

That echoed criticism from liberals who wanted Chief Justice Roberts to take a more active role in the trial. But he showed no inclination to explore the limits of his role as presiding officer.

He made this clear when Mr. Schumer asked whether the chief justice would break a tie vote. “If the members of this body elected by the people and accountable to them divide equally on a motion, the normal rule is that the motion fails,” Chief Justice Roberts said. “I think it would be inappropriate for me, an unelected official from a different branch of government, to assert the power to change that result so that the motion would succeed.”

Last week, Mr. Trump took issue with Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor. Justice Ginsburg had made critical remarks about Mr. Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, and Justice Sotomayor had issued a recent and routine dissent taking issue with a string of requests for emergency relief sought by the administration.

“Both should recuse themselves on all Trump, or Trump related, matters!” Mr. Trump said on Twitter.

In 2016, Mr. Trump called on Justice Ginsburg to resign after her remarks, which included calling him a faker. She did not, but expressed regret, saying that her remarks were “ill advised” for a Supreme Court justice and promised that “in the future, I will be more circumspect.”

Last week, Mr. Trump also criticized Justice Sotomayor’s dissent.

“I just thought it was so inappropriate, such a terrible statement for a Supreme Court justice,” the president said of Justice Sotomayor’s dissent, though he did not appear to have detailed familiarity with it.

Though he did not weigh in last week, Chief Justice Roberts did issue a statement in 2018 defending the independence of the federal judiciary after Mr. Trump called a judge who had ruled against his administration’s asylum policy “an Obama judge.”

The chief justice said that was a profound misunderstanding of the judicial role.

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” he said in a statement. “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.”

Mr. Trump responded to the chief justice’s statement on Twitter. “Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have ‘Obama judges,’” Mr. Trump wrote, “and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country.”

In general, Chief Justice Roberts has taken a cautious approach. He was silent during the 2016 presidential campaign, when Mr. Trump called him “an absolute disaster” and accused another federal judge of bias because of his family’s Mexican heritage.

Mr. Schumer led the fight against the nominations of Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, waging a filibuster against Justice Gorsuch that denied him the 60 votes required to advance to a final vote. Republicans responded by lowering the threshold on Supreme Court nominations to a simple majority vote.

At his own confirmation hearings, Justice Kavanaugh used language similar that of Mr. Schumer in heatedly denying accusations of sexual misconduct.

Addressing Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Justice Kavanaugh said: “You sowed the wind for decades to come. I fear that the whole country will reap the whirlwind.”