John Roberts Issues 2020 Message That Has GOP Sweating


Congress’s return from their holiday break marks a return to debate about the parameters for a trial for President Donald Trump following his recent impeachment by the U.S. House. Few details are set, but U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is set to preside over the proceedings, whenever and however they happen. Although in line with the tradition of the court, he rarely speaks publicly about political issues, this week, he delivered a strong proclamation in favor of transparency and, by extension, fairness — putting him at odds with the Republicans in the Senate who’d prefer a quick trial designed simply to produce an acquittal for the president.

Roberts did not mention the Senate or impeachment, but his proclamation didn’t emerge in a vacuum. It was contained in the latest edition of the annual report covering the federal judiciary’s activities over the previous year, in which Roberts wrote:

‘In our age, when social media can instantly spread rumor and false information on a grand scale, the public’s need to understand our government, and the protections it provides, is ever more vital… I ask my judicial colleagues to continue their efforts to promote public confidence in the judiciary, both through their rulings and through civic outreach. We should celebrate our strong and independent judiciary, a key source of national unity and stability. But we should also remember that justice is not inevitable. We should reflect on our duty to judge without fear or favor, deciding each matter with humility, integrity, and dispatch.’

Now does that statement sound especially tailored to those who have already proudly and publicly touted that they won’t be “impartial jurors” in an impeachment trial or what?

Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he will simply not be impartial, and he’s also roundly derided Democratic proposals to summon witnesses and evidence for the trial, including a great deal that has already been demanded but the president’s team has refused to hand over. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has supported a similar stance. In a de facto response, Roberts insist that judicial judgments must be delivered “without… favor.”

He has spoken out more directly against some of the president’s remarks before. After Trump issued one of many complaints about supposed “Obama judges” undermining his supposedly stupendously great agenda, Roberts publicly insisted that the phrase “Obama judges” simply did not actually reflect the independence of the federal judiciary, which Trump has endlessly tried to meddle with.

Never one to take criticism, Trump retorted on Twitter that Roberts was wrong and judges were out to get him.

As he put it, “you do indeed have “Obama judges,” and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country” — but in reality, the rate of rulings overturned after delivery by the appeals court he mentions is about on the level of the rates found in every other appeals court circuit. Trump — and now plenty of his supporters in Congress — just refuse to give up the game.