On March 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address. His inspiring words, delivered from the nation’s capital, have echoed down through the ages: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
On Wednesday, exactly 165 years later, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., stood on the steps of the Supreme Court and resoundingly rejected Lincoln’s approach, embracing anger and contempt instead.
While the court was in the middle of hearing a case on abortion rights, Schumer threatened, “I want to tell you Gorsuch, I want to tell you Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”
Sen. Schumer not only forgot the wise words of Lincoln, but also ignored the old axiom, “speak in anger and you will deliver the best speech you will ever live to regret.”
In a rare and stinging rebuke Chief Justice John Roberts responded with an official statement:
“This morning, Sen. Schumer spoke at a rally in front of the Supreme Court while a case was being argued inside. Sen. Schumer referred to two members of the court by name and said he wanted to tell them that ‘You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You will not know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.’ Justices know that criticism comes with the territory, but threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous. All members of the court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-K.Y., also took to the Senate floor to condemn his colleague, saying in part:
“Most striking of all have been the shameless efforts to bully our nation’s independent judiciary. Yesterday those efforts took a dangerous and disturbing turn. ... There is nothing to call this but a threat, and there is absolutely no question to whom it was directed. Contrary to what the Democratic leader has since tried to claim, he was not addressing Republican lawmakers or anyone else.”
The Supreme Court has become increasingly political. We have at several times noted in these pages the reason for such: Congress continues to abdicate its responsibility to the executive branch, which then acts through executive order. Those orders almost always end up in the courts and ultimately work their way up to the Supreme Court. This is why nominations of late have become so important and contentious for both political parties.
Schumer isn’t alone in his railings and antagonizing statements toward Supreme Court justices. President Donald Trump has levied accusations and taunts toward members of the court on a wide array of issues. No one is justified in this sort of contemptuous speech.
Sen. Schumer was wrong and his remarks were wildly inappropriate. Still, he did not start this problem, and he will not be the solution to end it. Likewise, President Trump did not give living breath to divisive rhetoric in America, nor will he provide the path to end it. It is up to the American people to heed Lincoln’s words and harken to the better angels of their nature in order to have malice toward none, and charity for all “in order to achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves.”