Politico reported on Tuesday that Chief Justice John Roberts "wants no further part" in managing the politically charged situation after he presided over the first impeachment trial of The President less than one year ago.
The Constitution announced that in impeachments for presidents, the chief justice of the Supreme Court has to be the presiding officer. For lesser impeachments, the presiding officer has been the same as for other Senate business — either the vice president or a senator. The Constitution is not clear on who should preside over impeachments for former presidents.
If Roberts does not preside over a Senate trial, Harris could probably decide whether to preside herself. The transition organization for the incoming Biden administration did not respond to a request for comment asking whether Harris intends to do such a thing.
If Harris moves on presiding over the trial, it would fall to a senator, probably Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who is the longest-serving Democrat.
Roberts, whose role makes him the de facto caretaker of the national judiciary, is seen as an institutionalist who tries to keep the Supreme Court out of highly controversial political waters. He is known for frequently sidestepping sweeping judgments on significant issues and crafting narrow opinions to dispense with the case at hand while some of his associates beg the court to make broader decrees.
"I have a parliamentary inquiry," Schumer answered. "Is the chief justice aware that in the impeachment trial of President Johnson, Chief Justice Chase, as presiding officer, cast tie-breaking votes on both March 31 and April 2, 1868?"
Roberts explained that the votes Chase broke ties on were minor procedural motions, and remarked that the votes were unusual in the history of impeachments and occurred a century and a half ago.
"If the members of this body, elected by the people and accountable to them, divide equally on a motion — the normal rule is that the motion fails," Roberts said. "I think it would be inappropriate for me, an unelected official from a different branch of government, to assert the power to change that result so that the motion would succeed."
Roberts at another point in the impeachment trial was noticeably annoyed when Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., asked a question regarding the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.