The President of the Supreme Court of the United States, John Roberts, is an indispensable figure in deciding the future of the presidency of Donald Trump in the coming months. He is in charge of presiding over the political trial in the Senate, while the Supreme Court he directs will rule on a titanic conflict over the president's attempts to keep his financial records secret.
The expected 'impeachment' will focus on allegations that Trump abused his power by asking Ukraine to investigate former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden. The House of Representatives, led by the Democrats, approved two articles of political trial on December 18, paving the way for the Senate trial led by Republicans.RELATED
Roberts, 64, normally reserved and in good manners, will have the largely symbolic role of president, and senators will cast the crucial votes.
But it is in the marble-lined corridors of the Supreme Court across the street from the Capitol, hidden from television cameras, where Roberts exercises real power. Known for his cautious approach in important cases, he has one of nine votes that he will decide at the end of June if Trump's financial records can be disclosed to congressional committees led by Democrats and a New York prosecutor.
History and precedents
The decisions of the court in those cases, about the power of Congress and local prosecutors to investigate a president in office, will set precedents that can affect not only Trump but also future presidents.
The political trial will be an unusual and potentially uncomfortable period for the discreet Roberts, who prefers not to expose himself too much. And this despite the fact that during the last decade and a half it has led the conservative majority of the court to the right.
"My feeling is that the president of the court does not want to become part of the story," said Sarah Binder, an academic at the Brookings Institution.
Roberts declined to comment. During an unusual public appearance in New York in September, he seemed concerned about Washington's hyper-partisan policy under Trump's mandate.
"When you live in a polarized political environment, people tend to see everything in those terms. That's not how we function in court," he said.
Those who know Roberts, including former employees in the service of the law, claim that he is very rigorous in his work and that as a student of history, he will probably be reading about political judgments to other presidents: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.
Roberts was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush and has a reputation in Washington as a traditional conservative. He is a strong defender of the Supreme Court as an independent branch of government.
In a rise without conflict, he served in the administration of Republican President Ronald Reagan before becoming one of the most prominent defenders of the Supreme Court in the city. Bush appointed him to the federal court of appeals in Washington in 2003, before electing him to the post of president of the US court two years later.
Roberts is considered as a defender of small changes in his judicial philosophy, aware of the fact that the Supreme Court risks its legitimacy if its conservative majority (5-4) is characterized by being too aggressive by right-wing law.
However, he has consistently voted with his conservative colleagues on issues such as gay rights, abortion, religious freedom and weapons rights. But in 2012, he broke ranks and cast the decisive vote to defend the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, the national achievement characteristic of Democratic President Barack Obama.
Earlier this year, he again sided with the liberals of the court when they ruled 5-4 against the Trump administration's attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
Roberts faced Trump more directly in November 2018 when he surprised by taking the step of issuing a statement in defense of the federal judiciary after Trump repeatedly criticized the judges who had ruled against his administration.
In the Senate trial that will take place in January, Roberts' role is mainly limited to keeping the process going. However, you may be asked to decide whether certain witnesses should be called.
The cases related to Trump's financial records, with his resolution scheduled for late June, place Roberts serenity and Trump's explosiveness in a new confrontation.
If it is a tight vote, Roberts could cast the deciding vote.