By Jan Wolfe and Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts on Wednesday issued an unusual rebuke of “dangerous” comments by top U.S. Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer about two conservative Supreme Court justices appointed by President Donald Trump and how they might rule in a major abortion case.
Schumer earlier on Wednesday assailed Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, saying they “won’t know what hit” them if they rule in favor of abortion restrictions.
“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,” Roberts added.
Trump also condemned Schumer.
“This is a direct & dangerous threat to the U.S. Supreme Court by Schumer. If a Republican did this, he or she would be arrested, or impeached. Serious action MUST be taken NOW!” Trump said on Twitter.
Schumer’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Trump’s tweet.
Roberts in November 2018 criticized Trump after the president called a judge who ruled against one of his immigration policies an “Obama judge.”
Schumer’s remarks were made during an abortion rights rally held while the nine-member court heard arguments in an abortion case from Louisiana. Roberts could be the pivotal vote.
In his speech, Schumer noted that this was the Supreme Court’s first major abortion case since Trump appointed Kavanaugh in 2018 and Gorsuch in 2017. The crowd jeered when Schumer mentioned the two names.
Republican-led state legislatures are “waging a war on women,” Schumer said, by passing restrictive abortion laws.
“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 told the cheering crowd.
Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman noted in a statement that Roberts did not comment when Trump last month turned his ire on liberal Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, calling for them to recuse themselves from any cases involving him or his administration.
“For Justice Roberts to follow the right wing’s deliberate misinterpretation of what Sen. Schumer said, while remaining silent when President Trump attacked Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg last week, shows Justice Roberts does not just call balls and strikes,” Goodman said.
He added that Schumer was referring to the “political price” Republicans will pay for putting Kavanaugh and Gorsuch on the court and “warning that the justices will unleash (a) major grassroots movement on the issue of reproductive rights against the decision.”
Democrats have criticized Trump’s frequent attacks on the U.S. judiciary and individual judges, including the one who presided over the trial of his longtime adviser Roger Stone.
(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham, Cynthia Osterman and Sonya Hepinstall)