Why Chief Justice John Roberts spoke out

Chief Justice John Roberts has watched, silently, as Donald Trump denigrated judges over the years, complain...

Posted: Nov 23, 2018 10:27 AM
Updated: Nov 23, 2018 10:27 AM

Chief Justice John Roberts has watched, silently, as Donald Trump denigrated judges over the years, complaining about one because of his Mexican heritage, referring to another as a "so-called judge" when he ruled against the administration's Muslim travel ban.

As the episodes piled up, from Trump's campaign time in 2016 and into his presidency, the man who sits at the helm of the federal judiciary said nothing.

Donald Trump

Government and public administration

Government bodies and offices

Government organizations - US

John Roberts (Justice)

Political Figures - US

Politics

US federal court system

US federal government

US Supreme Court

White House

Brett Kavanaugh

But Trump's comments on Tuesday apparently were too much. Roberts spoke out Wednesday, and his rare and extraordinary statement immediately seized national attention.

Not to mention a rejoinder three hours later from Trump on Twitter.

The startling series of events -- which showed a bolder side of Roberts -- demonstrated just how much Trump's relationship with the third branch has devolved. The US Judiciary has strived to be above the political fray that has only been exacerbated by Trump.

Roberts' response stems specifically from Trump's comments on Tuesday on District Court Judge Jon Tigar's Monday night decision to temporarily block an executive order that would have scaled back US asylum policy. Trump criticized the San Francisco-based Tigar, nominated in 2012, as an "Obama judge." Of the regional US circuit court that would oversee any appeal of the case, Trump declared, "an automatic loss" for the administration and "the 9th Circuit is very unfair."

In a statement on Wednesday, made public because of a query from The Associated Press, Roberts said, "We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. 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."

It was not the first time Roberts had been asked to comment, but it was the first time he decided to go public. A 2005 appointee of Republican President George W. Bush, Roberts did not explain his timing.

But it may arise from the combination of Trump's specific insult -- portraying Tigar in a political realm based on the president who appointed him -- as well as the recent confirmation turmoil over new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Roberts' public concern for the reputation of the federal judiciary comes as the Supreme Court is riven 5-4 along ideological and political lines. The recent retirement of swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy has deepened the split, and Roberts has already signaled an effort to try to lessen the divisions among the nine.

The chief justice spoke out broadly about judicial independence in October after the tumultuous Kavanaugh hearings. Addressing a University of Minnesota audience, Roberts referred to "the contentious events in Washington of recent weeks" and then asserted the high court's independence from the executive and legislative branches.

"I will not criticize the political branches," he said. "We do that often enough in our opinions. But what I would like to do, briefly, is emphasize how the judicial branch is -- how it must be -- very different."

Roberts' statement on Wednesday was of a different magnitude, stronger and deliberately echoing back the President's own remark about an "Obama judge."

The chief justice has often expressed dismay when judges are referred to by political affiliation. He has also observed since 2010, with the retirement of liberal Justice John Paul Stevens, an appointee of Republican President Gerald Ford, that it may be more difficult to convince the public of justices' impartiality from politics.

Since Stevens was succeeded by Obama-appointee Elena Kagan, and continuing with Trump's choice of Kavanaugh, the court's five conservative justices were named by Republican presidents and the four liberals -- often relegated to the dissent -- were named by Democratic presidents.

With Kennedy's retirement, Roberts is now ideologically at the middle of the court, and he may be inclined to hedge his own conservative instincts to steady the bench and avoid more polarization.

As he considered whether to answer Trump's latest affront to the judiciary on Tuesday, Roberts no doubt weighed how much he might provoke Trump. Roberts plainly concluded it was time to defend judiciary's special role in America's democracy.

The 63-year-old chief was likely not surprised that within three hours, Trump fired back in two consecutive tweets: "Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but 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. It would be great if the 9th Circuit was indeed an 'independent judiciary,' but if it is ... are so many opposing view (on Border and Safety) cases filed there, and why are a vast number of those cases overturned. Please study the numbers, they are shocking. We need protection and security - these rulings are making our country unsafe! Very dangerous and unwise!"

Roberts offered no new retort. And given the chief justice's aversion to the appearance of politics, he is unlikely to offer any response any time soon.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 34574

Reported Deaths: 2134
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion9853578
Lake3616190
Allen161869
Cass15877
Elkhart132228
St. Joseph127434
Hendricks116971
Hamilton115993
Johnson1105108
Madison58659
Porter53928
Bartholomew51135
Clark50441
LaPorte43323
Howard40828
Tippecanoe4023
Jackson3891
Delaware38537
Shelby37322
Hancock33827
Floyd31839
Boone31535
Morgan27724
Vanderburgh2742
Montgomery24117
White2358
Noble23221
Clinton2321
Decatur22431
Grant21122
Dubois1993
Harrison19422
Henry18211
Greene16924
Vigo1698
Dearborn16821
Monroe16612
Warrick16628
Lawrence16324
Miami1401
Putnam1377
Kosciusko1351
Jennings1304
Orange12822
Scott1203
Franklin1108
Ripley1096
Marshall1082
Carroll932
Daviess8816
Steuben832
Wayne825
LaGrange812
Wabash782
Newton7810
Fayette777
Jasper671
Washington521
Jay520
Clay511
Fulton491
Rush472
Randolph473
Pulaski460
Jefferson451
Whitley423
Starke393
DeKalb371
Sullivan361
Owen351
Brown331
Perry330
Wells320
Benton300
Huntington282
Knox280
Tipton251
Blackford252
Crawford240
Fountain212
Switzerland200
Spencer201
Parke180
Gibson172
Posey160
Adams151
Ohio130
Warren121
Martin110
Vermillion100
Union90
Pike60
Unassigned0167

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 120260

Reported Deaths: 5390
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook779253642
Lake8331291
DuPage7707373
Kane6338178
Will5566276
Winnebago225155
McHenry156672
St. Clair113782
Kankakee91045
Kendall79819
Rock Island65824
Champaign6407
Madison58060
Boone45217
DeKalb4164
Sangamon35129
Jackson28610
Randolph2704
Peoria2339
McLean22013
Ogle2063
Stephenson2062
Macon19319
Clinton18617
Union15411
LaSalle15313
Whiteside14013
Iroquois1324
Coles12715
Out of IL1181
Warren1170
Jefferson10116
Knox1000
Grundy982
Monroe9512
McDonough8811
Unassigned850
Lee811
Cass730
Tazewell735
Henry690
Williamson672
Pulaski560
Marion500
Jasper457
Macoupin452
Adams441
Perry410
Vermilion401
Montgomery391
Morgan361
Christian354
Livingston342
Jo Daviess320
Douglas280
Jersey241
Fayette213
Ford201
Menard200
Woodford192
Mason180
Washington180
Hancock170
Mercer170
Shelby161
Bureau151
Carroll152
Schuyler130
Bond121
Franklin120
Clark110
Crawford110
Fulton110
Moultrie110
Piatt110
Brown100
Cumberland100
Logan100
Wayne91
Alexander80
Henderson80
Johnson80
Effingham71
Massac70
Saline70
Greene50
Marshall50
De Witt40
Lawrence40
Richland30
Stark30
Clay20
Edwards20
Gallatin20
Hamilton20
Wabash20
White20
Calhoun10
Edgar10
Hardin10
Pike10
Pope10
Putnam10
Terre Haute
Few Clouds
73° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 73°
Robinson
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 74°
Indianapolis
Few Clouds
70° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 70°
Rockville
Scattered Clouds
68° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 68°
Casey
Clear
71° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 71°
Brazil
Few Clouds
73° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 73°
Marshall
Few Clouds
73° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 73°
A warm up on the way.
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

Latest Video

Image

Monday Afternoon Weather

Image

Washington Catholic High School

Image

Rules of the roadway will be different for Indiana drivers, new hands-free law in place

Image

Monday: Sunny, warmer. High: 78

Image

Exotic Feline Rescue Center special events canceled

Image

Indiana bowling alleys still closed, business owner prepares

Image

Teen killed in weekend accident remembered at vigil

Image

Duke Energy saving programs

Image

Staying cool this season

Image

Indiana state parks to stay closed

WTHI Events