“I want to tell you, Gorsuch. I want to tell you, Kavanaugh,” Schumer said. “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.”
Whoa. If Trump had said something like this about liberal justices, Schumer and his allies would be going crazy, and rightly so. Schumer had every right to oppose the confirmations of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh; having lost those battles, he has every right to disagree with their rulings.
But these comments had an air of menace, whether intended or not, and an unsettling echo of Kavanaugh’s intemperate outburst at his own hearing, when he warned that Senate Democrats “sowed the wind for decades to come. I fear the country will reap the whirlwind.”
Schumer’s first response to the inevitable, and justified, criticism was to double down. His spokesman Justin Goodman asserted, unconvincingly, that Schumer was actually referring to “the political price Senate Republicans will pay for putting these justices on the court.”
By Thursday morning, in the face of a scathing rebuke from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and with his Republican colleagues — colleagues conveniently silent in the face of Trump’s excesses — trooping to the Senate floor to denounce him, Schumer managed to choke out a New Yorker’s version of an apology: “I’m from Brooklyn. We speak in strong language. I shouldn’t have used the words I did, but in no way was I making a threat.”
Notably, Schumer didn’t back away from his jab at Roberts. Roberts had remained silent last month when Trump criticized his liberal colleagues Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, insisting they should recuse themselves from any cases involving him. On Wednesday, Roberts jumped in quickly to admonish Schumer: “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,” Roberts said in a statement. “All members of the court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter.”
Schumer responded with aggression, not contrition. “For Justice Roberts to follow the right wing’s deliberate misinterpretation of what Sen. Schumer said, while remaining silent when President Trump attacked Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg last week, shows Justice Roberts does not just call balls and strikes,” Goodman said in a statement. Schumer’s quasi-apology didn’t retract that accusation.
It should have. Roberts took the extraordinary step of criticizing Trump in 2018 when Trump assailed an “Obama judge.” And I might have liked to see Roberts stand up for U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the judge in the case of Trump associate Roger Stone, when Trump attacked her as biased last month. (Beryl Howell, the chief judge of the district court, did stand up for Jackson.)
But even in the age of Trump, we can’t expect the chief justice to operate as some kind of national nanny, regularly instructing the children of the other branches to start behaving themselves. He should save it for particularly egregious episodes. And Schumer’s outburst was one.
Trump’s comment about a Sotomayor opinion he clearly hadn’t read — “This is a terrible thing to say” — was inappropriate and ignorant; she hadn’t said her Republican-appointed colleagues were “biased in favor of Trump,” as the president, channeling Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, asserted. But that’s a far cry from telling Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, “You will pay the price.”
Trump, never deterred by his own bad behavior, was of course happy to join the Schumer-bashing, tweeting about it twice. “This is a direct & dangerous threat to the U.S. Supreme Court by Schumer,” Trump thundered. “If a Republican did this, he or she would be arrested, or impeached. Serious action MUST be taken NOW! “
Right, lock him up. Trump has no standing — zero — to talk about threats to judges. But Schumer unleashed his own whirlwind. The blowback will make it harder for Democrats to credibly criticize Trump the next time the president goes after judges — as he sadly, inevitably will.