If President Donald Trump’s impeachment goes to a trial in the Senate, John Roberts could face the most political case of his entire career — since he will be the one to preside over the trial.
The current chief justice of the Supreme Court is known for his reluctance to stray into politics, according to TIME magazine, who reported Thursday that the impeachment trial could be a “nightmare” for Roberts.
“We only call balls and strikes,” the chief justice once said, likening the high court to a baseball game.
“Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules; they apply them,” Roberts insisted at his 2005 confirmation hearing. “The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.”
A political move
Unfortunately for Roberts, impeachment will be intensely political for everyone involved. There are likely to be questions that will look political to the public no matter how they are phrased, argued, or decided.
A few Republicans worried about previous tension between Roberts and Trump have suggested that Roberts could recuse himself from a Senate impeachment trial, but that’s unlikely; given the mildness of Roberts’ criticism, there are no real grounds for his recusal.
The most egregious example of sparring between the two came last year, when Roberts rebuked Trump for comments he made that classified a judge who ruled against his administration as an “Obama judge.”
“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, according to the Associated Press.
Trump shot back with a tweet: “Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have ‘Obama judges,’ and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country.”
Can Roberts be objective?
In reality, each and every Supreme Court justice has political leanings, just like nearly everyone else in the country. But while political philosophy can impact the way a justice interprets the Constitution, there are limitations to how much interpretation should happen — and it’s up to the justices themselves to keep up their perception of impartiality among the American public.
The Supreme Court is not operating in a vacuum. It would be wise for the justices to make fair decisions and carry out their duties as the referees that Roberts says they are.
But only time will tell if they’re willing to do that when it comes to Trump’s impeachment.