January 30, 2020

During Thursday's Question period in Donald John Trump's impeachment trial, Senator Elizabeth Warren sent a question up to Chief Justice John Roberts that turned quite a few heads.

CJ ROBERTS: At a time when large majorities of Americans have lost faith in government, 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, and the Constitution?

Here is a screenshot of Chief Justice Roberts' face after he finished reading that.

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Here is a screenshot of Twitter after he finished reading that.

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Here is a screenshot of Adam Schiff as he prepared to stand to answer that question.

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It's understandable that the Twitterverse and millions of TV viewers would cheer this question, finding it heroic and cathartic after days and days (years, even) of suffering the absolute bullsh*t gaslighting and lies from the GOP White House, Senate, and now, tragically, a GOP Supreme Court. Sen. Warren forced Chief Justice Roberts to confront his legacy and the impact of his actions, inactions, and decisions in the impeachment trial over which he presides.

On the other hand, was it wise to poke the bear? After all, this is the man who might end up being the tie-breaking vote for witnesses. Unlikely, sure, but possible. Will goading him with low-key insults move him in our direction or away from it? Was the question unnecessarily inflammatory?

Furthermore, on the one subject matter in which he has shed the "potted plant" approach, he ruled in our favor, and strongly. He refused — multiple times — to read questions in which the whistleblower's identity might have been revealed, no matter how hard Rand Paul tried. Believe me, I am no John Roberts fan, but this showed strength and good ethics.

Thankfully, Rep. Schiff's response was, as usual, brilliant, conciliatory, and laser-focused on exactly the right issues at the heart of the matter.

REP. SCHIFF: Senator, I would not say that it contributes to a loss of confidence in the Chief Justice. I think the Chief Justice has presided admirably.

Feathers smoothed, one hopes.

He then turned to what not calling witnesses and admitting evidence would do to the legitimacy of our standing in the world. He lamented the fact that we've already lost legitimacy and the moral high ground when we tell other nations not to engage in political investigations. Then he went back to Sen. Warren's question:

REP. SCHIFF: I don't think a trial without witnesses reflects adversely on the Chief Justice. I do think it reflects adversely on us. I think it diminishes the power of this example to the rest of the world if we cannot have a fair trial in the face of this kind of presidential misconduct. This is the remedy for presidential abuse. But it does not reflect well on any of us if we are afraid of what the evidence holds."

Sen. Warren's question was in many ways deeply satisfying to hear, and reflected the passionate sentiments of millions of Democrats and progressives around the country — author of this post included. Hopefully, though, Rep. Schiff's answer redirected everyone's focus to where the real blame will lie if no witnesses are called. On the GOP.

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