As Supreme Court justices heard a major case on abortion rights on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke during a rally on the building’s steps, warning Trump appointees Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch that they “won’t know what hit” them if they vote to uphold abortion restrictions in Louisiana.
“I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price,” the New York senator said. “You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions. We will tell President Trump and Senate Republicans, who have stacked the court with right-wing ideologues, that you will be gone in November, and you’ll never be able to do this again.”
The comment did not sit well with the Chief Justice: In a rare public rebuke, John Roberts issued a statement chastising Schumer for what he considered a threat: “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. All Members of the Court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter.”
The back-and-forth continued, with a statement from Schumer’s spokesperson: “For Justice Roberts to follow the right wing’s deliberate misinterpretation of what Sen. Schumer said, while remaining silent when Pres. Trump attacked Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg last week, shows Justice Roberts does not just call balls and strikes.” However, the president’s recent claim that both justices should recuse themselves from “Trump-related cases” did not contain language that could be understood as a potential threat. (Trump has done so in past tweets, however, like when he was accused of witness tampering in real time during impeachment-inquiry hearings.) A few hours after the exchange, Trump provided some less-than-self-aware analysis:
On Wednesday, the court heard a challenge to a Louisiana law requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at area hospitals. Although the court rejected an essentially identical Texas law three years ago, the challenge is the first since Kavanaugh reached the Supreme Court — which could make Roberts the deciding vote in the decision.