Hypocrisy is typical in politics, but New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer sank to a new low last week during a rally in front of the Supreme Court. Speaking against a Louisiana abortion restriction, 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.”
This is the same senator who back in February discussed the need for an independent federal judiciary and argued that politicians should not attack judges. So it’s troubling to see Schumer stoop to threatening violence against justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch.
The Senate minority leader is more interested in scoring political points than defending the rule of law or protecting judges from political backlash. Next time Schumer complains about the Supreme Court, remember this moment and ask yourself whether you can trust anything he says.
Schumer tried to walk back his threats in a speech from the Senate floor. “Now, I should not have used the words I used yesterday. They didn’t come out the way I intended to. My point was that there would be political consequences — political consequences — for President Trump and Senate Republicans if the Supreme Court with the newly confirmed justices stripped away a woman’s right to choose.”
Unfortunately for Schumer, words mean something, and he referenced Kavanaugh and Gorsuch by name. Given the context of Schumer’s remarks — he was speaking to a group of angry protesters within a few hundred feet of the justices — his threats should not be ignored or downplayed.
Both justices have lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court, and removing a justice is virtually impossible. The only “whirlwind” likely to affect either man is one created by intimidation tactics like Schumer’s remarks.
For the minority leader to intimidate and bully the bench in this way is a bridge too far. The job of our Supreme Court justices is to interpret the law — not create the law. Schumer is imposing his political will on the branch of government that’s supposed to be independent of the federal legislature.
The senator should know better than to blur the lines between the two branches. His hypocrisy, however, is glaring — so glaring that Chief Justice John Roberts issued a statement condemning the senator’s antics.
“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,” he said. “All members of the court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter.”
Roberts’ words are an important defense of our federal judiciary and the critical role it plays in preserving our republic. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed the chief justice’s comments. He was spot-on, saying Schumer’s intimidating words are unbecoming a U.S. senator: “At the very best his comments were astonishing, reckless and completely irresponsible, and clearly as the chief justice stated in a rare and extraordinary rebuke they were ‘dangerous,’ because no matter the intention, words carrying the apparent threat of violence can have horrific unintended consequences.”
Even left-leaning political commentators took issue with the senator’s comments. Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe took to Twitter, saying Schumer’s words are “inexcusable,” that “Chief Justice Roberts was right to call (Schumer) on his comments” and that Schumer’s words were “beneath him and his office.”
Aaron Blake, senior political reporter for the Washington Post, similarly critiqued the senator’s alarming comments, stressing that — historically — sitting members of Congress are supposed to respect Supreme Court decisions and the reasoning behind every justice’s vote.
“Generally speaking, no matter how predictable Supreme Court vote splits have been, norms suggest they are to be treated as fundamental disagreements among justices about the Constitution — not as political acts by justices going to bat for one side or another or requiring political pressure campaigns,” he writes.
Schumer may have apologized for his vitriol, but the damage has already been done. Thankfully, Roberts had the courage to defend the bench, draw the line and reiterate the crucial importance of a federal judiciary that is set apart from the bullying whims of lawmakers such as Schumer.
Teri Christoph is the host of the Smart Girl Politics podcast and a longtime fundraising consultant for conservative candidates and non-profits.