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Senate Majority Leader McConnell Defends Judicial Independence Following “Reckless” Schumer Comments

by | Mar 5, 2020

Editor’s note. At a pro-abortion rally outside the Supreme Court building Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY)said, “I want to tell you, [Justice] Gorsuch; I want to tell you, [Justice] 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.” His words were so over-the-top that Chief Justice John Roberts issued what was correctly described as a “rare rebuke.”

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

No critic was more eloquent than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) He delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor. You can watch McConnell delivering his remarks here

They are particularly important because the Majority Leader placed the attacks on the two Supreme Court Associate Justices in the context of “How Democrats increasingly respond to political disappointments with extreme claims that our system of government itself must be broken.”

A few weeks ago, I spoke on this floor about a dangerous trend that threatens our self-government.

I explained how some in the Democratic Party appear more interested in attacking the institutions of our government than in working within them. How Democrats increasingly respond to political disappointments with extreme claims that our system of government itself must be broken.

The failure can’t be their own. It can’t be that the left needs better arguments or ideas. No, the fault must lie with the Constitution itself.

Democrats have tried to cloak their anger at President Trump in rhetoric about protecting norms and institutions. But in reality, it is their own side of the aisle where anti-institutionalism is rampant.

We could talk about attacks on the office of the presidency… on the Electoral College… on the First Amendment… on the Senate itself.

But most striking of all have been the shameless efforts to bully our nation’s independent judiciary. And yesterday, these efforts took a dangerous and disturbing turn. 

By now, many already know what the Democratic Leader shouted outside the Supreme Court yesterday morning.

I’m sorry to have to read it into the Record.

First, he prompted a crowd of left-wing activists to boo two of the Associate Justices — as though Supreme Court justices were professional athletes and Senator Schumer were jeering from the stands.

And then the senior Senator for New York said this:

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.

I’m not even sure where to start. There is nothing to call this except a threat. And there is absolutely no question to whom it was directed.

Contrary to what the Democratic Leader has since tried to claim, he very clearly was not addressing Republican lawmakers or anybody else. He literally directed the statement to the Justices, by name. And he said, quote, “if you go forward with these awful decisions,” which could only apply to the Court itself.

The Minority Leader of the United States Senate threatened two Associate Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Period. There’s no other way to interpret that.

Even worse, the threat was not clearly political or institutional. As I’ll discuss in a moment, those kinds of threats are sadly nothing new from Senate Democrats.

This was much broader. The Democratic Leader traveled to the workplace of two judges, and in front of a crowd of activists, he told those judges “you will pay the price” and “you won’t know what hit you.”

If any American had these words shouted at them from a sidewalk outside their office, they would hear those threats as personal. And most likely they would hear them as threatening or inciting violence.

That’s how any American would interpret those words if they were directed at us. And that is certainly how the press and leading Democrats would have characterized them if President Trump or any senior Republican had said anything remotely similar. We have seen much more hay made out of much less.

Perhaps our colleague thinks this is absurd. Perhaps he would like the most generous possible interpretation: that he got carried away and did not mean what he said.

But if he cannot even admit to saying what he said, we certainly cannot know what he meant.

At the very best, his comments were astonishingly reckless and irresponsible. And clearly, as the Chief Justice stated in a rare and extraordinary rebuke, they were “dangerous.”

Because no matter the intention, words carrying the apparent threat of violence can have horrific unintended consequences.

In their most recent year on record the United States Marshals Service tracked thousands of threats and inappropriate communications against the judiciary. 

Less than three years ago, of course, an unhinged and unstable left-wing activist attempted a mass murder of congressional Republicans at a baseball field across the river.

A Senate leader appearing to threaten or incite violence on the steps of the Supreme Court could literally be a matter of deadly seriousness.

So I fully anticipated our colleague would quickly withdraw his comments and apologize. That’s what even reliably liberal legal experts such as Laurence Tribe and Neal Katyal have publicly urged.

Instead, our colleague doubled down.

He tried to gaslight the entire country and stated that he was actually threatening fellow Senators. As though that would be much better. But it’s a fiction.

And then a few hours later, the Democratic Leader tripled down. Instead of taking Chief Justice Roberts’s sober and appropriate statement to heart, he lashed out yet again, and tried to imply the Chief Justice was biased for doing his job and defending the Court.

Our colleague therefore succeeded in attacking thirty-three percent of the Supreme Court in the space of a few hours.


Throughout the impeachment and the Senate trial, for months, Washington Democrats preached sermons about the separation of powers and respect among equal branches.

So much for all that. And sadly, this attack was not some isolated incident. The left-wing campaign against the federal judiciary did not begin yesterday.

My colleagues will recall that during the impeachment trial, the senior Senator for Massachusetts and outside pressure groups tried to attack the Chief Justice for staying neutral instead of delivering the outcomes they wanted. 

Those same groups came to Senator Schumer’s defense yesterday with gratuitous attacks against the Chief Justice for condemning the threats against his colleagues. 

And last summer, a number of Senate Democrats sent an extraordinary brief to the Supreme Court. It threatened to inflict institutional change on the Court if it did not rule the way Democrats wanted.

Here’s what they wrote: “The Supreme Court is not well… Perhaps the Court can heal itself before the public demands it be ‘restructured’…”

A political threat, plain as day. As you read the document, you half-expected to end by saying: That’s some nice judicial independence you’ve got there.  It would be a shame if something happened to it!

Independence from political passions is the cornerstone of our judiciary in our country.

Judicial independence is what enables courts to do justice even when it is unpopular; to protect constitutional rights even when powerful interests want them infringed.

Judicial independence is what makes the United States of America a republic of laws rather than of men.

It has almost been a century since the last time Democrats threatened to pack the Supreme Court because they wanted different rulings. History still judges that disgraceful episode to this day.

So I would suggest that my Democratic colleagues spend less time trying to threaten impartial judges, and more time coming up with ideas that are actually constitutional.

Fortunately, this extraordinary display contains one ironic silver lining.

These clumsy efforts to erode a pillar of American governance have just reminded everyone why that pillar is so crucial.

These efforts to attack judicial independence remind us that independence is essential.

Every time Democrats try to threaten sitting Justices, we are reminded exactly why the Framers gave them life tenure and salary protection.

Every time Democrats toy with packing new seats onto the Court, we are reminded exactly why, as Justice Ginsburg recently said, “nine seems to be a good number.”

The distinguished men and women of the Supreme Court do not, and must not, serve at the pleasure of angry partisans.

They do not need to pay any mind to unhinged threats, as shameful as they may be.

In fact, as the Chief Justice reminded us all yesterday, they are duty-bound to pay such things no attention at all.

Their job description is simple. To apply the law to the facts, as the Chief Justice put it, “without fear or favor, from whatever quarter.”

I have great confidence the Court will do just that. I am confident that if the facts and the Constitution would have led the Court to disappoint Democrats the day before yesterday, they will still feel free to do so today, tomorrow, and beyond — notwithstanding these shameful tactics.

I had hoped I would not need to reiterate what every Republican Senator told the Court in August after Senate Democrats sent their threatening brief. But today I have no choice but to say it again.

Republicans are absolutely and unshakably committed to the core constitutional principle of an independent federal judiciary.

As long as this majority holds the gavel, we will never let the Minority Leader’s dangerous views become policy. This majority will ensure the only casualties of this recklessness are the reputations of those who engage in it.

Categories: Supreme Court