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Chief Justice Roberts is about to be at the helm of impeachment trial

(File photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is about to find himself front and center in the Democratic Party’s highly partisan impeachment farce.

That is, assuming that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., ceases with the political gamesmanship and sends the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump over to the U.S. Senate and we actually see a trial.

As dictated by the U.S. Constitution, Roberts will preside over proceedings when the trial gets underway.

“With Roberts at the helm, it would mark one of the few times the highest levels of the three branches collide in a political fight – one that may last only weeks, but whose effects can ripple for decades,” wrote Fox News Supreme Court Producer Bill Mears.

“And given simmering tensions between Trump and Roberts,” he added, “the chief justice’s conduct in this role would be closely watched by both parties.”

Mears showcased a quote from Roberts, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, from September suggesting the jurist is bracing for the partisan battle coming.

“When you live in a polarized political environment, people tend to see everything in those terms,” Roberts said. “That’s not how we at the court function and the results in our cases do not suggest otherwise.”

Trump was highly critical of Roberts for ruling in favor of Obamacare, saying in 2016 the chief justice “turned out to be an absolute disaster, he turned out to be an absolute disaster because he gave us Obamacare.”

In 2012, Trump said, “He looks like a dummy, because frankly, his decision does not seem to be written by [a] supposedly smart man.”

More recently, Roberts appeared to rebuke Trump after the president expressed his disappointment with an “Obama judge” who temporarily blocked his administration from denying asylum to migrants who illegally cross the southern border.

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” the chief justice said in a release. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”

The judge Trump spoke of was from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and it’s quite a feat to suggest there’s no bias there.

Trump quickly fired back at Roberts on Twitter.

Much like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is looking to the 1999 impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton as a model, there is a suggestion that Roberts may look to how former Chief Justice William Rehnquist handled that.

“Chief Justice Rehnquist did bring a sort of solemnity to the occasion or a seriousness that tried to sort of tamp down maybe on politics and really focus on the facts of the case,” said Robert Schaffer, who was a Rehnquist law clerk at the time.

Ironically, Roberts was once a clerk for Rehnquist.

“[Rehnquist] was content to allow the Senate to control its own procedures,” Schaffer said. “And really, he viewed himself as a guest of the Senate during the impeachment trial.”

All of which would be welcome news for Republicans, if Roberts goes that route.

Then again, Roberts has gained a reputation for disappointing those on the right.

More from Mears on what Roberts’ role will entail:

The chief justice of the United States would be sworn in first, then the senators. He would wear his judicial robes at every public session, from the seat normally reserved for the presiding officer. And he would be tasked with maintaining order with the chamber’s traditional handle-less ivory gavel.

Roberts’ main role would be to make any rulings on procedure raised by senators, the House impeachment managers or the president’s counsel. But while he could decide on evidentiary questions or objections, the chief could choose to have senators instead vote on those matters. Or the lawmakers could override any Roberts rulings with a majority vote.

And since the senators are not allowed to speak, any questions they submit in writing would be read aloud by the judge.

 

In the end, Roberts is expected to be “fully prepared” for the coming challenge.

“He has a history of being a very impartial, fair, almost umpire-like justice, who calls them as he sees them,” Schaffer said. “I don’t think he’ll treat this trial any differently.”

Tom Tillison

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