WASHINGTON, D.C. - Chief Justice John Roberts denounced comments by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday about Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh as the Supreme Court heard arguments in a high-stakes abortion case, calling Schumer's remarks "inappropriate" and "dangerous" in a rare statement.

"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 released by the Supreme Court. 

The justices, he added, will continue with their work "without fear or favor, from whatever quarter." 

Schumer's comments came during a rally held in front of the Supreme Court as the justices met inside for oral arguments in a case challenging a Louisiana abortion law. The measure at the center of the dispute requires doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and marks the first time the Supreme Court's new conservative majority has heard a case related to abortion.

Gorsuch and Kavanaugh are the two newest members of the high court and were appointed by President Trump.

"I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price. You won't know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions," Schumer said. "The bottom line is very simple: We will stand with the American people. We will stand with American women. We will tell President Trump and Senate Republicans who have stacked the court with right-wing ideologues that you're going to be gone in November, and you will never be able to do what you're trying to do now ever ever again."

After Roberts responded, Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman said the Democratic leader'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." 

Goodman accused the chief justice of amplifying "the right wing's deliberate misinterpretation" of Schumer's remarks while ignoring the president's recent criticisms of liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an indication that Roberts "does not just call balls and strikes."

In his confirmation hearing in 2005, Roberts compared judges to baseball umpires, saying it is his "job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat."

Roberts' statement is not the first time he has defended members of the federal judiciary from attacks.

The chief justice in 2018 pushed back on comments from Mr. Trump, who characterized a federal judge who ruled against him as an "Obama judge." The remark prompted another rare statement from Roberts, who praised the independence of the federal judiciary and said the U.S. doesn't have "Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges."

First published on March 4, 2020 / 5:43 PM

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