John Roberts says Supreme Court doesn’t work in a ‘political manner’
Chief Justice John Roberts responded to attacks on the Supreme Court and the judiciary from both sides of aisle on Tuesday evening, saying that such criticism “does not affect how we do our work” and he said that the justices will “continue to decide cases” according to the Constitution and laws “without fear or favor.”
“We don’t go about our work in a political manner,” Roberts said in New York City.
Criticism of the court, Roberts said, is “often based on a misperception” that the justices are divided 5-4 along familiar partisan lines and that, in fact, they sometimes form unusual alliances.
“The point is when you live in a politically polarized environment, people tend to see everything in those terms,” Roberts said. “That is not how we at the court function, and the results of our cases do not suggest otherwise.”
Roberts’s comments, at a long-scheduled appearance at Temple Emanu-El, came just hours after House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Were Trump to be impeached by the House, Roberts as chief justice would preside over a trial in the US Senate.
Roberts did not comment directly on the impeachment process or the turbulent political atmosphere in Washington, but his comments reflected an indirect acknowledgment of Trump’s past attacks on particular judges who have ruled against his administration, as well as a recent Supreme Court brief filed by five Democratic senators who discussed the court in highly political terms.
The chief justice said he “respects” the other branches of government and understands “they have their jobs to do” but said the role of the court is to “interpret the law and ensure compliance with the Constitution.”
The justices return next week to begin a new term that will include blockbuster issues such as immigration, LGBT rights, the Second Amendment and maybe even abortion and health care.
While last term was a term of transition, the upcoming term is likely to produce more closely divided outcomes in the cases that capture the public’s attention.
But Roberts said the justices know they are all “engaged in the same enterprise” and that they have developed a bond.
“I don’t want to make it sound like we are around the camp fire singing Kumbaya,” he said, and added that after the intense months of a term they are happy to flee for the summer “to catch our breath.”
He emphasized that before each argument the justices go through the ritual of shaking each others hands and that it’s “very hard” to “look them in the eye and not recall that you are engaged in the same process together.”
He ticked off some differences among members, noting that Justice Stephen Breyer served many years on Capitol Hill, and Justice Samuel Alito worked as a US attorney. “And of course,” Roberts said, “Justice (Ruth Bader) Ginsburg brings her experience as a rock star.”
Asked by the moderator, his long-time friend, Rabbi Mark Lipson, if he could do as many push ups as Ginsburg, Roberts demurred.
“Now, she has so much less to push up I don’t think that’s fair,” he said, adding: “I can comfortably say I can bench press her weight and she can’t bench press mine.”
Meanwhile, Roberts also let in on some inspiration. He said that his favorite classic rock band is the Byrds, and that he has an enduring passion for the music of Bob Dylan who he sometimes quotes in his judicial opinions.
“I think he writes poetry,” the chief said.