WASHINGTON (CN) — Chief Justice John Roberts issued a rare statement Wednesday rebuking Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for saying Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch will “pay the price” if they vote to uphold state laws that restrict abortion access.
“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,” Roberts said in the Wednesday afternoon statement. “All members of the court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter.”
Schumer made the comments at a rally in front of the Supreme Court after oral arguments in a closely watched challenge to a Louisiana law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. The case is the first major abortion case to go before the justices since 2016 and has significant implications for the court’s abortion jurisprudence.
After detailing recent legislative attempts from Republican-controlled states to restrict abortion access, Schumer pointed to the court and addressed President Donald Trump’s appointees to the bench.
“I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price,” Schumer said. “You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”
Gorsuch and Kavanaugh are key in the case because they are the only members of the court who were not on the bench in 2016, when then-Justice Anthony Kennedy voted with the court’s more liberal members to strike down a Texas law that was nearly identical to the Louisiana statute before the court now.
In a statement on Roberts’ rebuke, Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman said the Democratic senator from New York was referring to “the political price Senate Republicans will pay for putting these justices on the court” if the Trump appointees were to form a majority upholding the law.
Recalling Roberts’ statement during his 2005 confirmation hearing comparing his job to that of an umpire, Goodman noted the chief justice did not weigh in when Trump said Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg should recuse themselves from cases involving him.
“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,” Goodman said.
Though seen as a staunch defender of the court as an institution, Roberts rarely weighs in publicly on political spats. After Trump dismissed a negative ruling in 2018 as being issued by “an Obama judge,” Roberts issued a statement pushing back on the president’s criticisms.
“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said at the time. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”