Chief Justice John Roberts lamented that misinformation is flourishing online and urged judges to conduct their work in a manner that promotes public faith in fair and impartial judging in his annual year-end report on the federal judiciary.
The report pressed judges to be at the vanguard of civic education in their formal work and in their other activities.
“In the ensuing years, we have come to take democracy for granted, and civic education has fallen by the wayside,” Roberts wrote. “In our age, when social media can instantly spread rumor and false information on a grand scale, the public’s need to understand our government, and the protections it provides, is ever more vital.”
Elsewhere in his report, the chief justice admonished judges to work with an eye toward public confidence. Some court-watchers saw that exhortation as a rebuke of provocative lower court opinions that have lately appeared, or the proliferation of nationwide injunctions which block the Trump administration’s policy priorities.
The warning comes as the Supreme Court navigates a docket heavy on politically-salient cases. By June, the justices will issue decisions touching LGBT workplace rights; President Donald Trump’s bid to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program; New York City’s gun transportation rules; Louisiana’s regulations on abortion providers; and a trio of subpoenas for Trump’s personal and professional financial records.
Roberts himself will find himself at the center of a political maelstrom in the new year. He will preside over the Senate’s impeachment trial of the president, the contours and particulars of which remain undetermined.
“I ask my judicial colleagues to continue their efforts to promote public confidence in the judiciary, both through their rulings and through civic outreach,” Roberts wrote. “We should celebrate our strong and independent judiciary, a key source of national unity and stability. But we should also remember that justice is not inevitable. We should reflect on our duty to judge without fear or favor, deciding each matter with humility, integrity, and dispatch.”
“As the New Year begins, and we turn to the tasks before us, we should each resolve to do our best to maintain the public’s trust that we are faithfully discharging our solemn obligation to equal justice under law,” he added.
The passage also recalls his 2018 rebuke of President Trump, after he derided an “Obama judge” who blocked his attempted reforms to the asylum rules. In a rare public statement, Roberts rejected such labels and defended the integrity of the judiciary.
Roberts also had praise for his would-be colleague, Judge Merrick Garland, whom former President Barack Obama nominated for the vacancy occasioned by the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. Garland has tutored students at Washington D.C.’s J.O. Wilson Elementary School for nearly 20 years. Roberts cited that work as typical of the community engagement federal judges ought to conduct.
The report comes as Roberts processes a personal loss. The chief justice’s mother, Rosemary Roberts, died Sunday at age 90. She was surrounded by family, according to an obituary published Tuesday.
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