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Roberts criticizes Schumer for 'dangerous' remarks on Kavanaugh, Gorsuch

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts rebuked Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a rare public statement over the senator’s comments about two conservative justices on Wednesday.

Roberts issued a statement Wednesday afternoon calling Schumer’s remarks “dangerous.”

"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," Roberts said in a statement. "All Members of the Court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter."

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As the court was hearing oral arguments in a major abortion case Wednesday morning, Schumer warned of a "whirlwind" for Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, both appointed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE, if they moved to roll back abortion rights.

“I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price,” Schumer said at a rally with abortion rights advocates outside the court. “You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions."

Republican lawmakers also criticized the remarks.

"A reprehensible threat from Senator Schumer is followed by a laughably illogical prevarication," tweeted Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBiden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls The Memo: GOP mulls its future after Trump Biden teams to meet with Trump administration agencies MORE (R-Utah). "What ever happened to truth and a simple apology?"

Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer, said the comments were intended to make clear that rolling back abortion rights would cause a major outcry among the public and that Roberts and Republican leaders were deliberately misinterpreting them.

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“Women’s health care rights are at stake and Americans from every corner of the country are in anguish about what the court might do to them,” Goodman said in an emailed statement. “Sen. Schumer’s comments were a reference to the political price Senate Republicans will pay for putting these justices on the court, and a warning that the justices will unleash a major grassroots movement on the issue of reproductive rights against the decision."

“For Justice Roberts to follow the right wing’s deliberate misinterpretation of what Sen. Schumer said, while remaining silent when President Trump attacked Justices [Sonia] Sotomayor and [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg last week, shows Justice Roberts does not just call balls and strikes,” Goodman added.

The justices heard arguments Wednesday over whether a Louisiana law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals is constitutional. Reproductive rights activists argue that the law is similar to one the court struck down just four years ago and worry that the case will lead to the court’s new conservative majority under Trump rolling back protections that were granted by the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

"The decision to even hear this abortion case, after the Court already struck down an identical law four years ago, was itself a brazenly political act by the Roberts Court, and it is fully appropriate for politicians and the public to call it out,” Brain Fallon, the executive director of the progressive judicial activist group Demand Justice, said in a statement.

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"The Court's entire docket this year has already guaranteed that it will be at the center of debate in 2020,” Fallon added. “Schumer was right to warn the Court against continuing to act so politically. Roberts ought to brace himself for plenty more criticism in the months to come."

Trump stirred up his own controversy late last month when he called on Sotomayor and Ginsburg to recuse themselves from upcoming cases involving subpoenas into his financial records for arguing against recent court decisions and criticizing him.

“Both should recuse themselves on all Trump, or Trump related, matters! While 'elections have consequences', I only ask for fairness, especially when it comes to decisions made by the United States Supreme Court!” Trump said in a pair of tweets.

Roberts did not respond to the comments at the time, and he has rarely broken his silence to weigh in on political controversies. During Trump’s impeachment trial this year, Roberts largely remained on the sidelines during the proceedings.

But he did speak out against Trump in 2018 to defend the judiciary’s independence, after the president lashed out at an “Obama judge” who ruled against his administration’s asylum policy.

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

Progressive groups have been urging Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates to speak out more on the court, which is dealing with a politically charged docket this term that will have the justices ruling on, among other hot-button issues, gun rights, deportation protections for undocumented immigrants, and workplace discrimination against LGBT employees.

The court will issue its decision in the Louisiana abortion case by the end of June.

Updated at 6:55 p.m.