Why Roberts responded to Trump

Some conservatives are criticizing Chief Justice Roberts for responding to President Trump’s attack on “Obama judges.” They note that Roberts did not respond when President Obama criticized the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United during a state of the union address.

But there’s an obvious difference between the two situations. Obama was saying that the Supreme Court got one case wrong. Trump was attacking a large number of federal judges as biased partisans. His criticism, in effect, attacked the integrity of the judiciary, not one court’s wisdom in a single decision.

I believe there is considerable truth in Trump’s critique. But it’s understandable that the Chief Justice, who disagrees with Trump and wants to maintain public faith in the branch of government he sits at the top of, rallied to the defense of the federal judiciary.

It’s also understandable that he did not publicly argue the merits of Citizens United with Obama. Supreme Court Justices should defend the results they reach via their judicial opinions, not in public debates with critics. But when a large chunk of the judiciary is attacked, it’s not wrong forthe Chief Justice to respond if he thinks the attack is unfair.