Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts on Wednesday issued a highly unusual and forceful rebuke to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., calling his seemingly threatening remarks directed at Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh “irresponsible” and “dangerous” — prompting Schumer’s office to slam Roberts and accuse him of bias.
The extraordinary back-and-forth began hours earlier at a pro-choice rally hosted by the Center for Reproductive Rights, when Schumer ominously singled out President Trump’s two Supreme Court picks: “I want to tell you, Gorsuch. I want to tell you, Kavanaugh. You have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price!” Schumer warned. “You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”
Roberts replied in his remarkable written statement, obtained by Fox News: “This morning, Senator Schumer spoke at a rally in front of the Supreme Court while a case was being argued inside. Senator Schumer referred to two Members of the Court by name and said he wanted to tell them that ‘You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You will not know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.'”
Roberts continued: “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.”
Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman quickly responded by accusing Roberts of bias, further escalating the confrontation.
“Women’s health care rights are at stake and Americans from every corner of the country are in anguish about what the court might do to them,” Goodman said in a statement to Fox News. “Sen. Schumer’s comments were a reference to the political price Senate Republicans will pay for putting these justices on the court, and a warning that the justices will unleash a major grassroots movement on the issue of reproductive rights against the decision.”
He added: “For Justice Roberts to follow the right wing’s deliberate misinterpretation of what Sen. Schumer said, while remaining silent when President Trump attacked Justices [Sonia] Sotomayor and [Ruth Bader] Ginsberg last week, shows Justice Roberts does not just call balls and strikes.”
That was an apparent reference to Trump’s call for those liberal justices to recuse themselves from some cases due to alleged bias. (“I just don’t know how they cannot recuse themselves to anything having to do with Trump or Trump-related,” Trump said. Ginsburg, who has publicly defended Kavanaugh and Gorsuch as “very decent” and “very smart,” previously called Trump a “faker,” and Sotomayor sharply criticized the administration in a recent dissent.)
Video of Schumer’s remarks had quickly circulated on social media, with Republicans casting the comments as a clear threat against two sitting Supreme Court justices. Schumer, they said, had gone far beyond merely requesting that justices recuse themselves as he stood in front of the Supreme Court Building.
During Kavanaugh’s contentious confirmation battle in late 2018, a mob of left-wing protesters banged on the doors of the Supreme Court Building, many of them complaining about his possible future abortion rulings.
Schumer noted at the rally that an upcoming Supreme Court case, June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, is the first “major” abortion case since President Trump’s court picks have been on the bench.
The dispute, dealing with restrictions over who can perform abortions, involves a Louisiana law similar to one in Texas that the court ruled unconstitutional in 2016, before either Trump justice was on the Supreme Court and before conservatives held a 5-4 majority.
Schumer did not specifically explain what “price” the justices would face. During the rally, however, Schumer did go on to describe how Republican lawmakers could be impacted politically.
“We will tell President Trump and Senate Republicans who have stacked the court with right-wing ideologues that you’re gonna be gone in November, and you will never be able to do what you’re trying to do now ever, ever again!” he said. Earlier in his address, Schumer had accused Republican legislatures of “waging a war on women” and said reproductive rights are “under attack in a way we haven’t seen in modern history.”
The case before the court is part of a larger effort by red states to pass laws regulating abortion to test how supportive the new justices will be of precedents such as Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which formed the basis for abortion being legal.
The law in question requires abortion doctors in Louisiana to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital in case a patient experiences complications during or after a procedure. Those backing the law argue that it regulates abortion providers similarly to how other medical providers are regulated by the state while also ensuring doctors are competent. Opponents say that it is targeted at abortion providers with the goal of shutting them down, citing a 2016 case out of Texas in which the Supreme Court invalidated a very similar law.
Fox News’ Bill Mears, Shannon Bream, Tyler Olson, and Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.