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Justice Roberts will be spectator at the Senate trial of President Trump

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Justice Roberts will be spectator at the Senate trial of President Trump

Justice Roberts will be spectator at the Senate trial of President Trump
November 04
15:37 2019

Just as Democrats have had total control over the impeachment process in the House, the Republicans will control the trial in the Senate – and that includes the presiding judge, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.  What does this mean?

Insofar as pundits are speculating on the trial, there are two schools of thought – of course.  What can one expect in this deeply and evenly divided nation?  A number of Democrat panelists express concern that Roberts will be a hometown referee for the Republican team – making all the close calls in favor of the GOP.

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Some Republicans worry that Roberts is one of those establishmentarian types, with an animus toward President Trump.  Many Republicans recall his deciding vote on Obamacare.  They view it as bad legal judgment and political apostasy.   For the most part, however — as a justice of the Supreme Court — Roberts has understandably stayed out of the partisan fray.

Both sides should calm their anxieties.  Roberts is more likely to be a decoration on the dais rather than a blow-by-blow decision maker.  Unlike a judge in a court-of-law, Roberts plays no direct role in deciding the fate of the President.  He will not instruct the senators because they are not a jury – this is not a judicial proceeding.  He cannot overrule the decision of the senators.  He cannot declare a mistrial.  He can not exclude “jurors’ because there are no jurors.  He cannot question witnesses.

Most importantly, Roberts cannot call upon the law – or his knowledge of the law – to respond to motions or other questions addressed to him.  That is because his role is to enforce the rules established by the Senate – and that means Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican majority.

If history is any indicator, when Roberts is called upon to make a ruling – which will be rare – he will consult the Senate Parliamentarian – not the law books.  Following the Clinton trial, Chief Justice William Rehnquist was reported to have said, “I did very little, and I did it very well.”

Rather than run an impartial impeachment inquiry-cum-hearing, Democrats created a very partisan process.  Wittingly or unwittingly, they cleaved America into aroused adversarial political cultures.  Like the rule of physics – that states For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” – the Republican-controlled Senate will create a balance.  As House Democrats have chosen to be prosecutors, the Senate Republicans will mount the defense.

For the most part, Chief Justice Roberts will be a spectator.

So, there ‘tis.

About Author

Larry Horist

Larry Horist

Larry Horist is a conservative activist with an extensive background in economics, public policy and politics. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman, as well as the White House. He has testified as an expert witness before legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress, and lectured at major colleges and universities. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He can be reached at lph@thomasandjoyce.com.

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