WASHINGTON — Speaking outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday as oral argument for an abortion-related case was underway, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warned Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh that they “won’t know what hit [them]” if they rule in favor of restrictions on abortion.
“I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price,” he said to cheers while speaking at a rally hosted by the Center for Reproductive Rights. “You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”
According to the National Review, Schumer’s office clarified that Kavanaugh was referring to the “political price” that would be paid against Republicans for the justices’ appointment to the court, and that the rulings will result in a “major grassroots movement on the issue of reproductive rights against the decision.”
Supreme Court justices were hearing argument on Wednesday in the case of June Medical Services v. Russo, an appeal that centers on a Louisiana law requiring abortionists to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
As abortionists believe they will have difficulty finding hospitals willing to enter into the relationship, the law has been seen by some as essentially shutting down almost all abortion facilities in the state.
Chief Justice John Roberts, becoming aware of Schumer’s words, issued a statement characterizing the minority leader’s remarks as “threatening” and “dangerous.”
“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,” he wrote. “All members of the court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter.”
Read Roberts’ statement in full here.
President Trump also tweeted about the matter, opining that he likewise viewed Schumer’s words as a threat.
“This is a direct and dangerous threat to the U.S. Supreme Court by Schumer. If a Republican did this, he or she would be arrested, or impeached,” he wrote. “Serious action must be taken now!”
According to Fox News, Schumer’s office claimed that the senator’s words were “deliberately misinterpreted” by the “right wing.” It expressed disappointment that Roberts followed suit.
Schumer apologized in part on Thursday, stating that “I should not have used the words I used” and “[T]hey did not come out the way I intended to.”
He added, “My point was that there would be political consequences for President Trump and Senate Republicans if the Supreme Court, with the newly confirmed justices, stripped away a woman’s right to choose. Of course, I didn’t intend to suggest anything other than political and public opinion consequences for the Supreme Court, and it is a gross distortion to imply otherwise.”
“I’m from Brooklyn. We speak in strong language,” Schumer asserted. “I shouldn’t have used the words I did, but in no way was I making a threat. I never, never would do such a thing.”
Reports state that the Supreme Court appeared divided on the law, which would not ban abortion altogether, but would at least keep one facility open — one that performs thousands of abortions each year. The law simply seeks transferal of a mother to the hospital if she is injured while her child is being murdered in the womb.
Roberts asked if perhaps the ramifications of the law should rather be considered state-by-state rather than with a blanket ruling. But he also asked, “I understand the idea that the impact might be different in different places, but as far as the benefits of the law, that’s going to be the same in each state, isn’t it?”
Kavanaugh similarly inquired of the attorney for the abortion facility whether admitting privileges laws could serve a beneficial function.
But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg seemed to opine that the law is unnecessary, asserting that complications are rare in abortions, and when they occur, the abortive mother is already at home and can present herself to the hospital in her own community.
Justice Samuel Alito questioned whether the complainants in the case even had standing to bring the suit.
Yahoo News reports that Justices Thomas and Gorsuch asked no questions during the hearing.
The court had struck down an admitting privileges law in the 2016 case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, finding it to be an “undue burden on abortion access.” But last February, Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh indicated that they would have allowed the Louisiana regulation to have gone into effect.