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Fair Courts E-Lert: Chief Justice Roberts Rebukes Senator Schumer for Remarks Targeting Supreme Court Justices

This Fair Courts E-Lert highlights Chief Justice Roberts’s rebuke to Senator Schumer’s remarks targeting Supreme Court justices, how courts around the country are working to address the spread of coronavirus, and more.

Last Updated: March 13, 2020
Published: July 15, 2021

Federal Courts

Chief Justice Roberts Rebukes Senator Schu­mer for Remarks Target­ing Supreme Court Justices

 On March 4, Senate Minor­ity Leader Charles Schu­mer (D-NY) received back­lash for his remarks target­ing Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch when speak­ing at a pro-choice rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Schu­mer’s remarks were issued as the justices heard argu­ments over June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, the Court’s first major abor­tion case since Kavanaugh and Gorsuch were appoin­ted. He used language that insinu­ated retali­ation if they ruled against abor­tion rights. Schu­mer later apolo­gized for his comments.

Last month, Pres­id­ent Trump also accused Justices Sonia Soto­mayor and Ruth Bader Gins­burg of bias, tweet­ing they “[b]oth should recuse them­selves on all Trump, or Trump related, matters!”

 Chief Justice John Roberts issued a rare public rebuke in response to only Schu­mer, saying, “Justices know that criti­cisms comes with the territ­ory, but threat­en­ing state­ments of this sort from the highest levels of govern­ment are not only inap­pro­pri­ate, they are danger­ous.”

Accord­ing to the Bren­nan Center’s Janna Adel­stein and Alicia Bannon, “As the leader of the federal courts, it’s appro­pri­ate for the chief justice to play a visible role in defend­ing its integ­rity. But Roberts’ [] select­ive response risks exacer­bat­ing public percep­tions of partisan bias on the Supreme Court.”

U.S. Courts Imple­ment­ing Proced­ures in Response to Coronavirus

 Courts across the coun­try are imple­ment­ing emer­gency strategies in response to concerns about the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Last month, the Admin­is­trat­ive Office of the U.S. Courts issued a memo recom­mend­ing federal courts prepare for the poten­tial use of “social distan­cing meas­ures,” such as tele­com­mut­ing and the expan­sion of more flex­ible work­ing hours, accord­ing to Bloomberg Law. Several federal courts, includ­ing the South­ern District of New York, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the West­ern District of Wash­ing­ton, have since issued a range of orders in response to COVID-19. On March 12, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will be closed to the public until further notice, but the build­ing will remain open for busi­ness.

At the state level, the Boston Herald reports that judges in Massachu­setts are being encour­aged to reduce or cancel jury days as part of the state’s efforts to reduce the impact of CVOID-19. Other states, includ­ing Vermont, Connecti­cut, and North Caro­lina, are also consid­er­ing, or have begun imple­ment­ing, precau­tion­ary meas­ures to address CVOID-19 in their courts.

Senate Demo­crats Seek­ing Inform­a­tion on Former Feder­al­ist Soci­ety Lead­er’s Influ­ence on Federal Judi­cial Nomin­a­tions

On March 4, six Senate Demo­crats sent letters to former Feder­al­ist Soci­ety vice pres­id­ent Leonard Leo, the Feder­al­ist Soci­ety, the Justice Depart­ment, and the White House seek­ing docu­ments regard­ing Leo’s role as an advisor to the Trump admin­is­tra­tion on federal judi­cial nomin­a­tions.

In their letter, the senat­ors expressed concern over possible conflicts of interest related to Leo’s lead­ing role over judi­cial selec­tion and nomin­a­tions when he has a finan­cial interest related to that work, noting that “Mr. Leo’s network collec­ted more than $250 million in dona­tions, the sources of which remain unknown and which likely have interests before the federal courts” between 2014 and 2017 alone. The senat­ors also noted that Leo’s role has “raised ques­tions regard­ing his poten­tial status as a federal employee and compli­ance with accom­pa­ny­ing laws and regu­la­tions."

Accord­ing to Bloomberg Law, Leo, who also served as an advisor on judi­cial nomin­a­tions during the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion, recently left the Feder­al­ist Soci­ety to start a new group, CRC Advisors.

State Courts

Illinois State Supreme Court Race Raises Ques­tions About Judi­cial Diversity

On March 17, seven candid­ates will compete to fill the seat of former Justice Charles E. Free­man on the Illinois Supreme Court.

Free­man, who served on the bench for 27 years, was the first Black justice and the only person of color to ever sit on the state’s Supreme Court until the appoint­ment of his successor, Justice P. Scott Neville. Neville, who is also Black, was appoin­ted to the court two years ago to complete Free­man’s term and now faces six chal­lengers, includ­ing five appel­late judges and one prac­ti­cing attor­ney. Of Neville’s chal­lengers, two are Black, one is Latino, and three are white.

Depend­ing on the outcome of the elec­tion, Illinois could join the 23 states across the coun­try that currently have an all-white supreme court bench. Neville, who is the state’s only sitting justice of color, has spoken up about the import­ance of judi­cial diversity. Other candid­ates, includ­ing Appel­late Court Judge Cynthia Cobbs and Attor­ney Daniel Epstein, have also spoken about the need for judi­cial diversity.