Statement by City Bar President Roger Juan Maldonado on Comments by Elected and Appointed Officials that Denigrate or Threaten Judges

In the past, the New York City Bar Association has called attention to comments made by elected and appointed officials that denigrate or threaten our nation’s judges, in clear violation of the government’s duty to safeguard our independent judiciary. Today we write to call attention to comments made yesterday by Senator Charles Schumer (NY) and we call on all elected and appointed officials to avoid using inflammatory and intimidating language when speaking about the judiciary. 

On March 4, 2020, in the context of a recent case involving abortion rights that was just argued before the Supreme Court, Senator Schumer stated that Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh “have unleashed a whirlwind” and “will pay the price” and “not know what hit them” if the judges “go forward with these awful decisions.” Senator Schumer later explained that he was seeking to make a reference to comments from Justice Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearing that the country would “reap the whirlwind” due to the opposition to his nomination by some members of the Senate. On March 5, Senator Schumer acknowledged that he “should not have used the words [he] used yesterday” and that he only meant to suggest that there would be political consequences if the Court ruled to limit abortion rights.

Senator Schumer’s comments were inappropriate. The comments exceeded the bounds of acceptable criticism of federal judges. By stating that judges “will pay the price” for their decisions, his comments crossed the line from fair criticism to intimidation. Statements like these risk compromising the independence and even the personal safety of our judges. We are grateful that Senator Schumer recognized that these statements were not in the tradition of fair criticism and that he has acknowledged that he should not have made these comments. To be sure, elected and appointed officials act appropriately when they draw attention to decisions with which they disagree and advocate for the path of law or policy to take a different direction. But inappropriate and personal attacks directed at the judiciary by our elected and appointed officials – from whatever party and whatever branch of our government – must stop.