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.

Terre Haute
Overcast
51° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 51°
Robinson
Overcast
49° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 47°
Indianapolis
Overcast
47° wxIcon
Hi: 60° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 42°
Rockville
Overcast
44° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 38°
Casey
Overcast
48° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 43°
Brazil
Overcast
51° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 51°
Marshall
Overcast
51° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 51°
Mostly cloudy, a bit warmer.
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

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

Confirmed Cases: 350744

Reported Deaths: 9496
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1651985364
DuPage20947598
Lake19546503
Will16898419
Kane15422341
Winnebago9114165
St. Clair7559213
Madison6795152
Champaign568028
McHenry5642120
Peoria424362
McLean386730
Rock Island367088
Unassigned3627260
Sangamon347554
Kankakee316878
Macon256848
Kendall247027
Tazewell240547
LaSalle218460
DeKalb209542
Coles178838
Williamson170958
Boone165524
Adams163315
Clinton158724
Vermilion15417
Jackson143325
Whiteside115222
Randolph114514
Knox10969
Effingham10903
Ogle10527
Grundy8777
Jefferson85844
Monroe84928
Bureau84717
Marion84512
Franklin8406
Stephenson8147
Morgan79624
Henry7945
Christian77125
Macoupin7319
Union73025
McDonough66515
Fayette63019
Crawford6246
Lee6121
Shelby5868
Livingston54910
Montgomery54815
Douglas5458
Logan5434
Woodford54311
Saline5037
Bond4669
Jersey45621
Iroquois45119
Warren4517
Cass44911
Wayne43410
Jo Daviess4275
Perry40616
Fulton4030
Moultrie3755
Carroll3658
Richland31714
Johnson3130
Lawrence3068
Hancock2843
Clay28111
Washington2781
Greene26915
Clark2666
Pike2604
Cumberland2536
Jasper24710
Mason2351
White2351
De Witt2273
Pulaski2261
Mercer2196
Piatt2070
Wabash2055
Ford1799
Menard1591
Massac1412
Edgar1398
Marshall1373
Hamilton1132
Henderson1110
Alexander1081
Gallatin1052
Edwards980
Brown960
Scott930
Putnam850
Schuyler801
Stark792
Calhoun690
Hardin490
Pope361
Out of IL20

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

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

Confirmed Cases: 149166

Reported Deaths: 3960
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion24564781
Lake13079350
St. Joseph8788157
Elkhart8371132
Allen7815221
Hamilton5923113
Vanderburgh553050
Tippecanoe350914
Monroe319438
Hendricks3140130
Johnson2972127
Porter293248
Clark282157
Delaware279674
Vigo248837
Madison226991
Cass221020
LaPorte213057
Warrick186563
Kosciusko173121
Floyd172766
Howard157466
Bartholomew138657
Dubois133724
Marshall130626
Henry121828
Boone118648
Grant118039
Wayne117123
Hancock114144
Noble111333
Jackson107412
Morgan91540
Dearborn90328
Daviess83732
Gibson82611
Clinton81316
Shelby78329
Lawrence77832
LaGrange76615
Harrison73324
Knox69610
Putnam69515
DeKalb68611
Posey6745
Steuben5888
Miami5765
Fayette57515
Montgomery56422
White56215
Jasper5464
Greene51237
Scott50613
Decatur49439
Adams4645
Whitley4316
Clay4276
Sullivan42412
Ripley4178
Wells4125
Orange38624
Wabash3859
Starke3847
Huntington3695
Spencer3686
Franklin36325
Jennings35913
Washington3512
Randolph3378
Fulton3292
Jefferson3285
Pike31612
Carroll30813
Perry28914
Jay2816
Fountain2743
Tipton26623
Parke2182
Newton21111
Vermillion2111
Rush2034
Owen1991
Martin1950
Blackford1903
Crawford1481
Pulaski1431
Brown1283
Ohio1187
Benton1070
Union1020
Switzerland840
Warren731
Unassigned0233