It’s almost like there’s this demon in Washington and it keeps looking around for politicians with loose principles, incautious minds and a devotion to political profit. The creature got lucky the other day, happening on Sen. Chuck Schumer, and sneakily stuffed words in his mouth. He then spouted them, actually, irrefutably, loudly threatening Supreme Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh with dire consequences if they didn’t decide the way he demanded on an abortion case.
“I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price,” he said. “You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”
That’s tough stuff, very, very tough stuff, especially if you are the Democratic leader of the Senate, a man of extraordinary power, standing outside the court building giving a speech before a crowd of sign-waving, worked-up, pro-choice advocates. Understand this was not something as relatively trivial as President Donald Trump saying justices publicly critical of him should recuse themselves from cases concerning him. This was a warning saying that, in some fashion or the other, these guys were done if doing their duty did not match his druthers.
I am not accusing Schumer of advocating outright physical violence here, although he definitely should have known that such words can inspire the worst. I am talking about him angrily addressing two justices by name, both of whom were appointed under the Trump administration with fierce Democratic opposition. He is telling them that, if he does not like what they do, they will somehow suffer personally, there will be a cost. What he seems most likely to be talking about is that they will be impeached or their reputations otherwise ruined or the court packed by a Democratic Senate and president.
Here is an attack not just on the two men, but on our republic, on separation of powers, on judicial independence, on rule of law. It is a piece of irretrievable political overreach saying the court should be about something else than judges looking at law, the Constitution, precedent and justice as they deduce it.
Yes, Schumer did finally say he should never have used the words he used, attributing the choice not to a demon but to his Brooklyn background. But he added that “in no way was I making a threat,” which is an assault on dictionaries, the logic of grammar and common sense. And please remember how ardently Democrats fought against Kavanaugh’s ascension to the bench through a multiplicity of cheap, unprovable charges that finally degraded them more than him. They were not particularly nice to Gorsuch, either, even though both of these men had excellent records of astute, balanced decisions and have so far displayed scholarly knowledge and integrity on the Supreme Court.
Those on the left say the problem with them is that they are deep-down conservatives, which misses the point. They are constitutionalists who believe our founding document should be heeded. That is different from those judges whose judicial philosophy instructs them to ignore its difficult rules on amendment and do the amending themselves when they conclude the weary, old document does not live up to 21st century truths they have discovered.
I am scarcely the only one to feel outraged by what Schumer said. Speaking out early on the subject was Chief Justice John Roberts, and I will give some of his words the last say: “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. All Members of the Court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter.”
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