- Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said he had reservations about Chief Justice John Roberts’ response to President Donald Trump’s controversial remarks about a federal judge.
- In a tweet, Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, mentioned Roberts’ interactions with the executive branch during the Obama administration.
- Grassley accused Roberts of being silent when President Barack Obama “rebuked” Justice Samuel Alito in 2010.
- It was unclear what Grassley was referring to.
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said he had reservations about Chief Justice John Roberts’ response to President Donald Trump’s controversial characterization of a federal judge and the 9th District Court, suggesting it was hypocritical based on Roberts’ interactions with Trump’s predecessor.
“Chief Justice Roberts rebuked Trump for a comment he made abt judge’s decision on asylum,” Grassley said in a tweet on Wednesday. “I don’t recall the Chief attacking Obama when that Prez rebuked Alito during a State of the Union.”
Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, appeared to be referring to President Barack Obama’s 2010 State of the Union address in which he criticised the Supreme Court’s 5-4 landmark decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The decision eased restrictions for corporations and unions on funding political campaigns.
But Obama did not single out Justice Samuel Alito in that address, but referred to the Supreme Court broadly, without mentioning names.
“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama said.
In a video of the speech, Alito could be seen shaking his head and mouthing words as Obama commented on the court’s decision.
Alito joined the majority opinion and concurring opinions by Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia.
In an appearance at the University of Alabama Law School in March 2010, Roberts discussed the State of the Union address and questioned the justices’ presence there but stopped short of criticising Obama.
“There is the issue of the setting, the circumstances, and the decorum,” Roberts said. “The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering, while the court, according to the requirements of protocol, has to sit there, expressionless, I think, is very troubling.
“And it does cause me to think whether or not it makes sense for us to be there,” Roberts continued. “To the extent the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I’m not sure why we’re there.”
Though he did not single out a Supreme Court justice during his speech, Obama, as an Illinois senator in 2006, was critical of Alito and joined a filibuster on a vote on Alito’s nomination led by Democrats.
“I think Judge Alito, in fact, is somebody who is contrary to core American values, not just liberal values,” Obama said in an interview with ABC News in January 2006, days before Alito’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
He added: “When you look at his decisions in particular during times of war, we need a court that is independent and is going to provide some check on the executive branch, and he has not shown himself willing to do that repeatedly.”
Grassley’s quip came amid a tense back-and-forth between Trump and the federal judiciary. On Monday, a federal judge from the Northern District of California stopped Trump’s move to bar migrants who do not come to the US through a legal port of entry from applying for asylum.
The following day, Trump described the judge as “an Obama judge” and railed against the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, the appellate jurisdiction for the Northern District of California, by suggesting its rulings were inherently prejudiced.
“You go the 9th Circuit, and it’s a disgrace,” Trump said. “And I’m going to put in a major complaint because you cannot win – if you’re us – a case in the 9th Circuit, and I think it’s a disgrace.”
Roberts responded to Trump’s comments on Wednesday by saying the federal judiciary remained free of political biases.
“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said in a statement. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”
Trump later repeated his allegation that the 9th Circuit, the largest appeals court overseeing the western US, was prejudiced.
“Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have ‘Obama judges,’ and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country,” Trump tweeted. “It would be great if the 9th Circuit was indeed an ‘independent judiciary,’ but if it is why are so many opposing view (on Border and Safety) cases filed there, and why are a vast number of those cases overturned.
“Please study the numbers, they are shocking,” Trump added.
Democratic lawmakers praised Roberts’ statement and thanked him for taking a stand.
“Thanks Chief Justice Roberts for your powerful rebuke to Trump – refuting his demagogic denunciation of an ‘Obama judge,'” Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said on Twitter. “When the history of this dark era is written, our independent judiciary (& free press) will be the heroes. Our gratitude goes to them this Thanksgiving.”