Trump Supporters Want John Roberts to Recuse Himself From Impeachment Trial

Tom Williams/Zuma

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Follow me, if you will, on a brief hypothetical journey. Let’s say the House of Representatives draws up and passes articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. Per the Constitution, Chief Justice John Roberts would preside over Trump’s trial in the Senate. Now, imagine Roberts—a George W. Bush appointee—recusing himself from the trial because he once publicly emphasized judges’ responsibility to act in a non-partisan manner.

That’s how influential Trump supporter and radio host John Cardillo would have it, the conservative Washington Times reported Sunday. Cardillo claims that a statement made by Roberts in November 2018—in response to Trump’s criticism of a federal judge—means that he is biased against the president.

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts wrote last year in a statement released by the court’s public information office. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”

For Cardillo, these comments are apparently disqualifying. “There is already a crisis of confidence among the American people that we have a fair system of justice,” he said, according to the Times. “When you have a chief justice of the Supreme Court overtly making comments that are derogatory to the president of the United States, take all speculation out of the process.”

The framing of the article suggests the Times is taking Cardillo’s argument seriously, though the story does make clear that constitutional law experts roundly reject Cardillo’s reasoning. Orin Kerr, a scholar at UC Berkeley, called the argument for recusal “weak” and “hard to square” with the Constitution.

In the unlikely event that Roberts did decide to recuse himself, the most senior justice would step in, according to one expert cited by the Times. That’s Clarence Thomas, the most conservative member of the court.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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