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.

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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

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Cases: 1462456

Reported Deaths: 20308
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion2005922494
Lake992001456
Allen903391005
Hamilton70705539
St. Joseph63078746
Elkhart48098622
Vanderburgh46217523
Tippecanoe42115330
Johnson37119516
Hendricks35078455
Porter33900460
Madison28036530
Clark25186321
Vigo24768341
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Monroe22201243
Howard21344372
Delaware20937363
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Kosciusko17513199
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Warrick16060212
Wayne15757296
Floyd15399252
Grant14898293
Morgan13934230
Boone13172136
Noble11421140
Dearborn11355112
Henry11312201
Shelby11231150
Marshall11041166
Dubois10782152
Jackson10174104
DeKalb9944128
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Union163619
Ohio119516
Unassigned0742

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2403645

Reported Deaths: 30922
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin2596932036
Cuyahoga2572672998
Hamilton1666711699
Montgomery1103831586
Summit1066861382
Lucas895171149
Butler78647924
Stark747301383
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Clermont43541428
Delaware38876210
Trumbull38576748
Medina37611416
Licking36901401
Fairfield33848331
Greene32124416
Portage31381356
Clark30277440
Richland28251420
Wood27660289
Allen24372392
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Columbiana22095399
Wayne21275354
Tuscarawas18847423
Erie18041221
Ashtabula17932338
Marion17503231
Scioto16553203
Ross16163249
Pickaway15536173
Hancock15251227
Geauga15244221
Lawrence13847186
Huron13399182
Union1329683
Belmont13255247
Jefferson12864257
Sandusky12770197
Athens11949106
Knox11511195
Seneca11454200
Ashland10795174
Darke10673196
Washington10564168
Auglaize10152141
Crawford9854175
Shelby9699155
Brown9400140
Fulton9235148
Guernsey9109115
Defiance9057134
Highland9035143
Logan8955141
Clinton8719121
Mercer8640111
Madison8568104
Preble8002160
Williams7848135
Putnam7731135
Ottawa7629120
Champaign7556112
Jackson7383114
Perry714598
Coshocton7043136
Morrow694580
Fayette662287
Hardin6219125
Pike617086
Gallia594989
Adams5779124
Van Wert5779120
Henry565592
Hocking5521103
Carroll4828100
Wyandot482289
Holmes4747161
Paulding401163
Meigs375071
Monroe299368
Noble279851
Harrison279461
Morgan276848
Vinton239845
Unassigned08
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