Chief Justice John Roberts’ Move Not to Sit for Trump Impeachment Sparks Constitutional Concerns

January 28, 2021 Updated: January 28, 2021

Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision not to preside over former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial has raised concerns about whether the proceedings are constitutional.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told MSNBC that Roberts “did not want” to partake in the impeachment trial.

“The Constitution says the chief justice presides for a sitting president,” he said. “So it was up to John Roberts whether he wanted to preside with a president who is no longer sitting, Trump, and he doesn’t want to do it.”

Schumer has argued that an impeachment trial of a president once he’s left office is constitutional and vowed to go through with it.

Instead of Roberts, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Senate president pro tempore, will preside over the trial.

The Supreme Court has not responded to a request for comment from The Epoch Times or other news outlets about the reason why Roberts won’t partake. Roberts has not offered a public comment about his decision.

But because Roberts isn’t presiding over the event, some have argued that it goes against the Constitution.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was one of them, writing an opinion article earlier this week noting that “the Constitution says two things about impeachment—it is a tool to remove the officeholder, and it must be presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”

“Neither one of those things will happen. President Trump is gone, and Justice John Roberts, properly noticing the absence of an officeholder being impeached, is declining to preside,” he continued. “That settles it for me.”

The Kentucky Republican made reference to Roberts’ decision not to attend the trial on the floor of the Senate during his bid to vote down the impeachment trial.

“If the chief justice doesn’t preside, I think it’s an illegitimate hearing and really goes to show that it’s not really constitutional to impeach someone who’s not president,” he remarked.

Paul’s bid was voted down 55–45, with five Republican senators joining Democrats to go ahead with the trial. However, 17 Republicans are needed to convict Trump.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of GOP leadership, said earlier in the week that the “Constitution requires that the chief justice preside over the impeachment trial of a president,” adding that it is “indicative of the fact that we’re in uncharted waters.”

Epoch Times Photo
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) speaks at a press conference as Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) listens, in Washington on Feb. 12, 2019. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

“I just think it looks very petty and vindictive,” he added. “I understand there are a lot of people who are mad, but the process itself already looks like a railroad job.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) objected to Roberts not presiding over the trial.

“That is his constitutional duty. I can’t imagine why a Supreme Court justice would not do his duty,” she said last week, according to The Hill.

Leahy, in confirming the move, said he would “not waver from my constitutional and sworn obligations” to administer “impartial justice” during Trump’s second trial.

On Tuesday, the 80-year-old Vermont Democrat was taken to the hospital and was under observation before he was released hours later, his office confirmed.

“This evening, Senator Leahy was in his Capitol office and was not feeling well,” Leahy spokesman David Carle said in a statement to news outlets at the time. “He was examined in the Capitol by the Attending Physician. Out of an abundance of caution, the Attending Physician recommended that he be taken to a local hospital for observation,” the spokesperson added before saying that he had returned home.

Roberts presided over Trump’s first impeachment trial last year. Trump’s next trial is scheduled to start the week of Feb. 8.