President Donald Trump once got into a kerfluffle with Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts. Now, with all eyes on the impeachment saga — and the role that Roberts must play in the Senate trial — it’s worth looking at whether that mixup will have any effect on the final decision over whether Trump should stay in office or not.
The short answer: it probably won’t.
Roberts has tried his best to stay above the fray in Washington politics since Trump has come into office. But he couldn’t stay silent when, in late 2018, Trump attacked the credibility of a judge in the 9th Circuit Court for being appointed by Obama.
An immigration ruling by Judge Jon S. Tigar left Trump spouting his mouth off against the finding, which was not to his liking. Trump called Tigar an “Obama judge” whose impartiality he questioned due to that appointment.
Roberts stepped in, and offered a rare rebuke from a sitting chief justice:
“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”
“The independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for,” Roberts added, as the dispute happened around Thanksgiving in 2018.
Chief Justice John Roberts will move from the camera-free, relative anonymity of the Supreme Court to the glare of television lights in the Senate to preside over President Donald Trump's impeachment trial. https://t.co/6x4u31UPfz
— The Associated Press (@AP) December 23, 2019
Trump then launched into a statement responding to Roberts. “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,” he said.
Roberts’s comments were rare, and not likely indicative of how he’ll behave during the Senate impeachment trial, whenever that does commence. Indeed, precedence set by Chief Justice William Rehnquist during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial showcases how chief justices are determined to act during such proceedings — by not acting out much at all.
As Courthouse News points out, chief justices can enforce the rules to a certain degree within the Senate trial, but Senators can overrule chief justices’ decisions as well. Not wanting to appear partial to one side or the other, we shouldn’t expect Roberts to make any statements or to interfere in the Senate process…even with the previous feud from Trump in the back of some people’s minds.