Warren puts Justice Roberts in awkward spot with Supreme Court legitimacy question
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a seemingly awkward dynamic into the impeachment proceedings when she asked if Republicans’ likely refusal to allow new witnesses in President Trump’s Senate trial would diminish trust in the chief justice or the Supreme Court.
“The question from Sen. Warren is for the House managers,” Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, began.
“At a time when large majorities of Americans have lost faith in government, does the fact that the chief justice is presiding over an impeachment trial in which Republican senators have thus far refused to allow witnesses or evidence contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution?” he read.
WOW. Chief Justice John Roberts just had to read aloud Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s question…about whether he loses credibility for presiding over a trial without witnesses or evidence. https://t.co/vG08pjmhZH pic.twitter.com/G79ZdRljZj
— Heather Monahan (@HeatherMonahan_) January 30, 2020
The question appeared to create discomfort for Roberts, whose role as the trial’s presiding officer requires him to read senators’ queries aloud — even those raising questions about potential damage to his own legitimacy, or that of the judicial institution he has assiduously sought to shield from the political fray.
It was unclear if the question was a dig at Republican obstruction, Roberts’s unwillingness so far to take a position in the witness fight or both.
While some Democrats have floated a theory that Roberts can supersede the Senate and call witnesses at his discretion, this seems to be the minority interpretation of their respective powers. Most scholars agree that the Constitution gives the Senate ultimate say over all critical matters at trial and the ability to overrule the presiding officer with a simple majority vote.
Lead House manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is among the Democrats who have proposed that senators cede power to Roberts on the witness issue. In addressing Warren’s question, however, the congressman opted for diplomacy, declining to put added pressure on the presiding officer.
“I would not say that it contributes to a loss of confidence in the chief justice,” Schiff said. “I think the chief justice has presided admirably.”