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Schumer Comments Draw Rebuke From Chief Justice Roberts


The Supreme Court is considering an important abortion case. Inside the courtroom, the judges are considering high stakes arguments. Words spoken outside the courtroom, though, seized more attention yesterday. Here's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Before the court was a case testing whether the justices will start down the road towards rejecting Roe v. Wade. As the arguments unwound inside, outside Senate Minority Leader Schumer addressed a crowd of abortion rights demonstrators.


CHUCK SCHUMER: I want to tell you, Gorsuch; I want to tell you, Kavanaugh - you have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price.


SCHUMER: You won't know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.

TOTENBERG: Schumer's statement was apparently a reference to then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh's angry statement to Democratic senators at his 2018 Supreme Court confirmation hearing.


BRETT KAVANAUGH: You sowed the wind. For decades to come, I fear that the whole country will reap the whirlwind.

TOTENBERG: Late yesterday, however, Chief Justice Roberts responded to Schumer with a stern rebuke. Justices know that criticism comes with the territory, he said in a written statement, 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.

Schumer's office quickly replied with his own written statement, criticizing the chief justice for, quote, "remaining silent when President Trump attacked Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg" (ph) eight days ago. That failure to stand up for two of the court's liberals, Schumer said, shows that Roberts, quote, "does not call balls and strikes" (ph) as he promised he would at his confirmation hearing in 2005.

The Democratic leader maintained that his own comments were misunderstood, that they were in fact, quote, "a reference to the political price Senate Republicans will pay for putting these justices on the court and warning that the justices will unleash a major grassroots movement on the issue of reproductive rights...."

Wednesday's blast from the chief justice was not the first time he's rebuked a political leader. In November 2018, he issued a statement critical of President Trump for denigrating a judge as, quote, "an Obama judge" in an immigration case.

The statement Roberts issued then said, quote, "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," close quote.

Trump immediately tweeted back - 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 were charged with the safety of our country. These rulings are shocking. We need protection and security - these rulings are making our country unsafe. Very dangerous and unwise.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.