US Law Week

Chief Justice Off the Hook in Second Trump Impeachment Trial (1)

Jan. 25, 2021, 7:21 PM; Updated: Jan. 25, 2021, 9:32 PM

Chief Justice John Roberts won’t preside over the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.

The Constitution commands that when “the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside.” Since Trump is no longer president, Senate President pro tempore Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) gets the job, according to a person familiar with the plans.

“The president pro tempore has historically presided over Senate impeachment trials of non-presidents,” Leahy said in a statement Monday.

That’s not the case when a sitting president stands trial since the president pro tempore of the Senate is the third in line for the presidency, Leahy notes.

Roberts played a largely ceremonial role during Trump’s first impeachment in 2020. The former president was impeached and then acquitted in the Senate for attempting to coerce Ukrainian officials to provide negative information about then-candidate Joe Biden.

During the first impeachment trial, the Senate convened in the afternoon to allow the chief justice to hear already-scheduled oral arguments at the court prior to `presiding over the trial. That made for some late nights with the Senate often going into the early morning hours.

A Supreme Court spokeswoman said Roberts had no comment. Roberts tends to shy away from the spotlight and appeared uncomfortable being thrust into the middle of the highly partisan first impeachment trial.

Roberts tried to walk a middle line, at one point admonishing both sides “in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body.”

The Trump impeachment trial is expected to get underway next month. The Supreme Court resumes oral arguments Feb. 22.

(Updates with Leahy statement.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson in Washington at krobinson@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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