Court Battles

Progressives urge Democrats to hear from federal judge deeply critical of Roberts, conservatives


A progressive group is urging House Democrats to call a sitting federal judge to testify about the Supreme Court after he published a widely read law review article excoriating Chief Justice John Roberts and the rest of the conservative majority for “undermining American democracy.”

Lynn Adelman, an 80-year-old federal district judge in Milwaukee, made a splash in the legal world after posting his forthcoming article in the Harvard Law & Policy Review, titled “The Roberts Court’s Assault on Democracy.”

Adelman argues that the assault from Roberts and his four conservative colleagues on the high court’s bench is helping to cement disparities in economic and political power as well as undermining voting rights and protections.

In a letter obtained by The Hill, the progressive group Demand Justice, which has urged Democrats to focus more on the court, is asking a House subcommittee chairman to have Adelman air his criticisms in a public hearing.

“Judge Adelman’s choice to speak out in such blunt terms suggests profound concern within the federal judiciary about the state of the Supreme Court, and the American people deserve to hear directly from him,” Christopher Kang, the group’s chief counsel, wrote in the letter. “He has been on the bench for more than twenty years and has seen the development of the pro-corporate, pro-Republican judiciary first-hand during that time. In this article, he uses those first-hand observations to blow the whistle on a federal judiciary that is no longer serving the interests of our democracy.”

“Many people who have witnessed our judiciary from the inside are clearly concerned about the increasingly partisan, biased nature of our system, and Americans need to hear from Judge Adelman about why he chose to speak up,” Kang added.

The letter was sent to Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), who chairs a House Judiciary subcommittee on the courts. A spokesman for Johnson did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

It’s striking for a sitting federal judge to criticize the highest-ranking member of the judiciary in such blunt terms. As of Thursday morning, the paper has already been downloaded nearly 6,000 times from a popular academic database since it was first posted on March 6.

The court’s public information office did not respond when asked whether Roberts would like to comment on the forthcoming paper.

Adelman argues that the Supreme Court’s decisions in recent years have undermined voter protections and strengthened the “economic and political power of corporations and wealthy individuals and reduced that of ordinary Americans and entities which represent them, like labor unions.”

In the paper, Adelman reviews a string of such cases and also calls out President Trump and the rest of the Republican Party for political decisions that he believes have heightened inequality.

“As the Republican Party has become more conservative, so too have the Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican presidents,” Adelman wrote. “Rather than attempting to counteract the present anti-democratic trends, the Roberts Court exacerbates them.”

The article comes amid mounting criticism toward Roberts and the rest of the conservative majority. 

Last month, the Supreme Court granted a stay of a lower court’s injunction blocking the administration’s “public charge” rule, which makes it harder for migrants to enter the country if they are expected to need public assistance. The decision prompted a scathing dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the court’s more progressive judges, who accused the majority of too often acquiescing to the Trump administration’s emergency petitions after being rebuked in lower courts.

“Today’s decision follows a now-familiar pattern,” Sotomayor wrote. “The Government seeks emergency relief from this Court, asking it to grant a stay where two lower courts have not. The Government insists—even though review in a court of appeals is imminent—that it will suffer irreparable harm if this Court does not grant a stay. And the Court yields.”

Trump lashed out at Sotomayor after the dissent, demanding that she and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has criticized him in the past, recuse themselves from cases reviewing a handful of subpoenas for the president’s financial records.

Last week, Roberts issued a rare public statement rebuking Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) for warning Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch that they will “pay the price” if the court decides to roll back reproductive rights in a major abortion case on the docket this term.

“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 the statement. “All Members of the Court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter.”

Schumer later clarified that the remark was not intended as a threat, but to point out potential “political consequences” for an unpopular decision.

Adelman’s paper could add to the increasingly political battles over the court. There is a growing project being spearheaded by Demand Justice and other groups on the left to pressure Democratic leaders into taking the Supreme Court and the rest of the judiciary more seriously, following the success Trump has had in filling federal benches with conservative appointments and amid a Supreme Court term filled with polarizing cases.

Adelman ended his article with a plea for leaders to fight against the anti-democratic agenda that he believes conservative judges are advancing.

“We desperately need public officials who will work to revitalize our democratic republic,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, the conservative Justices on the Roberts Court are not among them. It will definitely take every bit of democratic resourcefulness that we can muster to undo the damage that the Court has already caused.”

Tags Brett Kavanaugh Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Hank Johnson John Roberts Lynn Adelman Neil Gorsuch Ruth Bader Ginsburg Sonia Sotomayor Supreme Court
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