“If, then, the courts of justice are to be considered as the bulwarks of a limited Constitution against legislative encroachments, this consideration will afford a strong argument for the permanent tenure of judicial offices,” argued Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 78.
If we ever needed a pristine example of why justices are bestowed lifetime appointments and shielded from the vagaries of the electorate and the intimidation tactics of unethical politicians, Sen. Chuck Schumer has now provided us with one.
While speaking to pro-abortion protesters Wednesday in front of the Supreme Court, the Senate minority leader threatened—there’s no other way to put it—two sitting justices with repercussions if they ruled to uphold a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to gain admitting privileges to hospitals before offering their services to women:
I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.
It’s conceivable that Schumer—who, like the rest of his party, doesn’t have the slightest interest in protecting babies who’ve survive botched abortions—can’t think of any good reason for hospital-admitting privileges. But treating as an “undue burden” any laws that require abortion clinics to provide basic medical facilities for women is just an example of the Democrats’ extremism on the issue. Threatening justices over the case is hysterical.
Moreover, the New York Democrat’s thuggish attack on Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch is a transparent attempt to intimidate justices. And wow—a sitting senator threatening an independent judiciary.
Surely the champions of norms and decency will be horrified by this development. When President Donald Trump, rather absurdly, demanded that Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg recuse themselves from “Trump-related” Supreme Court cases because of their partisan positions—and, yes Notorious RBG is openly partisan and anti-Trump—it was a major national story.
In this case, I suspect we’re going to hear a lot about a general “coarsening” of discourse.
Whatever the case, this is an unprecedented attack on Supreme Court justice. And by unprecedented, I mean that you won’t be able to unearth an instance in modern history of a member of Congress threatening a justice—by name, no less—for ruling against his wishes.
Which is why, I imagine, Chief Justice John Roberts felt the need to release this statement:
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.
Sometimes, in highly charged debates over public policy, the moment gets the better of a person. It’s happened to all of us. Yet, rather than walking back his statement, Schumer compounded the ugly behavior by smearing the chief justice as a partisan ideologue, as well.
“For Justice Roberts to follow the right wing’s deliberate misinterpretation of what Sen. 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,” Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman said in a statement to USA Today.
The senator meant only that there would be a “political price Republicans will pay for putting them on the court,” Goodman added.
First of all, is Schumer really arguing that being critical of justices is tantamount to threatening them? If that’s the case, why, during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in 2010, did Schumer stand and clap for Obama’s norm-breaking attack on the Supreme Court justices who had upheld the First Amendment in Citizens United?
It seems clear that Obama was attempting to manipulate the court, as well, but at least he had the decency not to sound like some wannabe Mafioso.
By accusing Roberts of misrepresenting his comments for partisan reasons, Schumer (via his spokesman) is obviously trying to influence the chief justice, as well. But he’s lying. Schumer’s initial statement specifically and unequivocally named two justices—one of whom he and his colleagues had already attempted to humiliate and defame. He was not calling out the Republicans who put Gorsuch and Kavanaugh on the court.
Schumer doesn’t have the power to follow through on any threats, thankfully. His attack, like many less obvious ones, is just part of the left’s concerted effort to delegitimize the court, denigrate its justices, and undermine the legality of its decisions.
This isn’t surprising; the Constitution—and the jurists who are inclined to uphold it—is the biggest impediment to the progressive agenda. So expect a lot more of this.
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