“I did nothing in particular, and I did it very well”
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, on his role in presiding over the impeachment trial of President Clinton
It was 1:00am Wednesday, the proverbial wee hours of the first day of the Impeachment Trial. Democrats and Republicans had been battling since noon or so. Everyone was tired, everyone frustrated. Tempers were flaring a bit. Chief Justice John Roberts, who has a distinguished role in this whole affair, yet with very little to do other than be present, needed to make a call.
His role in this trial is a bit like a third base umpire in baseball. As major league umpires rotate positions from game to game, they move to third base the day after working behind the plate. They get the easy job—there aren’t many tough calls to make at third base—after the hardest job.
But the third base ump has to be present and alert, because there will certainly be moments requiring their expertise. And so it is with our esteemed Chief Justice. He has to be prepared to take action when needed. So after House Manager Nadler accused White House lawyers of lying, and immediately after the president’s defense team responded that Nadler should be “embarrassed,” Roberts decided to issue a warning to officials on both sides of this flare up, as if they were managers ordering their pitchers to throw at—and hit—opposing hitters.
Roberts said, “I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the president’s counsel, in equal terms, to remember that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body.” He then asked them all to cease “speaking in a manner and using language that is not conducive to civil discourse.”
Much like a boardroom leader might have to step in to keep a tense situation from escalating, Roberts used the right tone when the time had come to assert himself and remind trial participants about decorum.
Clearly, this trial was getting out of control. Excellent call, Mr. Chief Justice!