Justice Roberts touts civic education as antidote to social media-fueled falsehoods

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday said that a better public understanding of how the U.S. government works could make Americans less susceptible to social media-fueled falsehoods.

In his annual year-end report on the federal courts, Roberts lamented that the country has come to “take democracy for granted” since the founding as civic education has “fallen by the wayside” and pointed to greater knowledge of government workings as an antidote to certain misinformation.

“In our age, when social media can instantly spread rumor and false information on a grand scale the public’s need to understand our government, and the protections it provides, is ever more vital,” Roberts wrote.

Though Roberts did not single out President Trump for criticism, the chief justice has previously rebuked Trump for his attacks on judges. Roberts pushed back in a speech after the president branded a judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals “an Obama judge” for a 2018 decision that Trump disagreed with.

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts responded at the time, defending the federal judiciary. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.” 

“That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for,” Roberts added.

Trump, a prolific Twitter user who has spread false and misleading information to his more than 68 million followers, recently suggested on Twitter that the Supreme Court could stop his impeachment, a comment that was rebuffed by another justice.

“Radical Left has NO CASE,” Trump wrote in a Dec. 2 tweet. “Read the Transcripts. Shouldn’t even be allowed. Can we go to Supreme Court to stop?”

The Constitution provides for no such mechanism. Rather, it says that the U.S. House of Representatives “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment” and the Senate “shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.”

Responding to Trump’s suggestion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg earlier this month said that “the president is not a lawyer.”

“He’s not law-trained,” Ginsburg added in an interview with by BBC reporter Razia Iqbal. “But the truth is, the judiciary is a reactive institution. We don’t have a program. We don’t have an agenda. We react to what’s out there.”

Roberts, in his year-end message, said the judiciary plays a key role in civic learning by delivering reasoned legal opinions that advance the public’s understanding of the rule of law and through an array of educational offerings. 

He called on federal judges to continue efforts “to promote public confidence in the judiciary, both through their rulings and through civic outreach.”

“We should celebrate our strong and independent judiciary, a key source of national unity and stability,” Roberts wrote. “But we should also remember that justice is not inevitable.”

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