Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was forced Thursday night to publicly reckon with the impact that Senate Republicans' management of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is likely having on his legacy and the high court's future legitimacy.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) submitted a question to the House impeachment managers, which was read by the chief justice, targeting the actions taken by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his party to block efforts to subpoena witnesses.
"At a time when large majorities of Americans have lost faith in government," Roberts read, "does the fact that the chief justice is presiding over an impeachment trial in which Republican senators have thus far refused to allow witnesses or evidence contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court, or Constitution?"
WOW. Chief Justice John Roberts just had to read aloud Sen. Elizabeth Warren's question...about whether he loses credibility for presiding over a trial without witnesses or evidence. https://t.co/vG08pjmhZH pic.twitter.com/G79ZdRljZj
— Heather Monahan (@HeatherMonahan_) January 30, 2020
The question created a "legacy-defining" moment for Roberts, tweeted Leah Greenberg, co-founder of the grassroots political action group Indivisible.
— Leah Frances Greenberg (@Leahgreenb) January 30, 2020
Some Democrats have called on Roberts, in his capacity as the official presiding over the impeachment trial, override the Republican Party and order documents to be subpoenaed and witnesses to appear at the proceedings, in the interest of having a fair hearing.
Roberts may be forced to break a tie vote on Friday. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is the last remaining Republican who has not stated whether she will join Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and all 47 Democrats in voting to call witnesses. If Murkowski votes in favor of witnesses it would split the chamber 50-50.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who is leading the Democratic impeachment managers in arguing the case against Trump, addressed Warren's question.
While hesitating to endorse Warren's suggestion that Roberts is abdicating his duty as the nation's senior-most judge by allowing a trial to proceed without witnesses, Schiff allowed that the proceedings have reflected "adversely" on the U.S. Congress and the nation's democratic ideals.
"I think that will feed cynicism about this institution," Schiff said. "We can't even get a fair trial. We can't even get a fair shake for the American people... Yes, senator, if they don't get that fair trial it will just further the cynicism that is corrosive to this institution and to our democracy."
On social media, some posited that Roberts's expression directly after reading the question betrayed the chief justice's view of how the trial has harmed his legitimacy and legacy.
"Yup," tweeted journalist David Roberts.