Unlike President Donald Trump, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tends to be precise in his language.
So when Schumer stood before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday and called out two justices by threatening they would “pay a price” if they ruled contrary to his preference on a case that could affect states’ ability to restrict abortion doctors, he wasn’t just running at the mouth.
Specifically, Schumer said, “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.”
Chief Justice John Roberts, whose 2019 year-end report delivered a jeremiad against “mob violence,” schooled Schumer with a statement that noted, “threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous.”
From the no-drama Roberts, those were fighting words.
Wednesday’s response from Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman counterpunched Roberts in Trumpian style.
Goodman claimed that Schumer wasn’t threatening the justices, but expounding on the “political price Senate Republicans will pay” for putting Gorsuch and Kavanaugh on the big bench — which is highly doubtful.
“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) Ginsburg, shows Justice Roberts does not just call balls and strikes,” Goodman said.
Goodman was mocking Roberts’ assertion during his 2005 confirmation hearing that judges are like umpires. “It’s my job to calls balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat,” he had said. At the same time, the Schumer spokesman equated Schumer’s threats to the justices to a February Trump tweet that asserted statements by Sotomayor and Ginsburg showed such bias that “both should recuse themselves” from Trump court cases.
Nice try. But what Schumer said is far worse than Trump’s idiotic assertion that Sotomayor and Ginsburg recuse themselves, because that will never happen. Whereas it is highly likely that Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and their families will be subjected to threats if they rule to curb abortions in Louisiana.
The Democrats’ decision to air unsubstantiated accusations against Kavanaugh — that he sexually assaulted a student when the two were in high school — showed an alarming disregard for the notion that an accused person is presumed innocent.
It’s not by accident that Schumer used the past tense when he said, “You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price.”
Clearly the senior New York senator has learned from the Trump playbook. He didn’t apologize, but he did go to the floor on Thursday to say, “I shouldn’t have used the words I did, but in no way was I making a threat. I never — never — would do such a thing.”
Schumer also offered, “I’m from Brooklyn. We speak in strong language.” And he called GOP outrage “manufactured.” That’s senator-speak for “fake news.”
But there’s a big difference in Schumer’s trash-talking the judiciary.
We’ve seen this for years from Trump. Rather than salute the top court’s independence, Trump has berated Roberts for not prosecuting former FBI director James Comey — not the justices’ job — and he slammed Roberts’ swing vote that upheld Obamacare.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with Trump criticizing court decisions. But there is something wrong with Trump’s apparent belief that the court is supposed to do whatever he wants it to do. It’s the Trump modus operandi to treat everyone in government as hired help.
For Trump, it’s never the principle that counts. It’s the result.
Et tu, Chuck?
Methinks Schumer’s real target is Roberts, who never will find a warm spot in Trump World and knows it.
Standing in front of the Supreme Court, Schumer threatened retribution. He’s the man who presumably would be in charge if Democrats flip the Senate and hence would have sway over what the nation spends on courts. Schumer also could be in a position to try to impeach a Supreme Court justice and usher through a court-packing scheme to bury the GOP’s 5-4 advantage.
At that moment, if there was any doubt, Schumer made it clear that he doesn’t give a fig about judicial independence.
So even though Schumer says he would never, never threaten court justices, if I were John Roberts, I’d sleep with the light on.
Contact Debra J. Saunders at email@example.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.
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