Vice President Mike Pence blasted Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed by a Republican, as a “disappointment” for his votes on several narrow rulings that went against the outcome hoped for by conservatives.
“We have great respect for the institution of the Supreme Court of the United States, but Chief Justice Roberts has been a disappointment to conservatives,” Pence said in a clip from an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody. The full interview airs Thursday.
The vice president pointed to Roberts’ 2012 vote upholding the Affordable Care Act and “a spate of recent decisions,” including the Calvary Chapel case last month, a 5-4 ruling that went against a church seeking exemptions from Nevada’s coronavirus restrictions.
Pence made the comments after Brody asked, “Are you scratching your head a little bit on John Roberts?” Brody said that while Roberts, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, was not “David Souter” at this point – referring to the former justice who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush but who consistently ended up siding with the liberal wing of the court – he appeared to be joining the “track record” of justices appointed by conservatives, who did not “turn out to be a reliable vote.”
Roberts has become the court’s swing vote in recent years. He has also sided with liberal justices in two major decisions extending protections against workplace discrimination to LGBTQ employees and blocking the Trump administration from rescinding a policy that allows about 650,000 young, undocumented people to live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation.
President Donald Trump decried those decisions as “horrible” and “politically charged,” as well as “shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives.”
Some conservatives on Capitol Hill put the blame for those decisions on Roberts.
“Chief Justice Roberts has been playing games with the court to achieve the policy outcomes he desires,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, from the Senate floor.
“If Justice Roberts wants to be a politician, he should resign and run for office,” tweeted Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
In the face of such criticism, Roberts has stressed the need for the court to remain independent of the partisan fray.
“When you live in a politically polarized environment, people tend to see everything in those terms,” he said last September. “That’s not how we at the court function.”
Trump and Roberts butted heads in 2018, when Trump criticized an immigration ruling by an “Obama judge.”
“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts replied in a rare rebuke.
“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,” Trump fired back on Twitter.
In the CBN interview,Pence held up Roberts as a political siren call to remind Republican voters “just how important this election is for the future of the Supreme Court.”
“We remember the issue back in 2016 which I believe loomed large in voters’ decisions between Hillary Clinton and the man who would become president of the United States,” Pence said in an apparent reference to the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the uproar over the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to allow a confirmation vote for President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.
Pence said that “some people thought” the Supreme Court “wouldn’t be as big an issue these days.”
“But I think that’s all changed,” he said, arguing that recent decisions – like last week’s 5-4 ruling against a Louisana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals – would energize abortion rights opponents.
“I think it’s been a wake-up call for pro-life voters around the country who understand, in a very real sense, that the destiny of the Supreme Court is on the ballot in 2020.”
Pence said that was the reason Trump announced that he would produce a list of the candidates he would nominate to fill any potential Supreme Court vacancies ahead of the election.
“He did that in 2016,” Pence said. “He kept his word. He’s gonna do that in the fall of 2020, and in the next four years, he’ll keep his word and appoint more principled conservatives to our courts.”
Contributing: Richard Wolf