U.S. Taking Democracy for Granted, Chief Justice Roberts Says

Greg Stohr

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. has “come to take democracy for granted,” Chief Justice John Roberts said, urging his fellow judges to keep educating the public about the workings of the federal government and the Constitution.

Roberts, who is slated to oversee the Senate‘s impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the coming weeks, used his year-end report Tuesday to laud the federal judiciary’s work on civic education, while issuing a thinly veiled warning about the fragility of American democracy in a fractious time.

“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.”

Roberts described a 1788 riot that incapacitated John Jay while he was working with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison on the Federalist Papers, a series of articles published to promote the ratification of the Constitution. Jay was hit in the head with a rock while trying to quell the riot, which was sparked by a rumor that medical students were dissecting the body of a recently deceased woman. Jay later became the first U.S. chief justice.

“It is sadly ironic that John Jay’s efforts to educate his fellow citizens about the framers’ plan of government fell victim to a rock thrown by a rioter motivated by a rumor,” Roberts wrote.

Roberts has become the nation’s leading champion of judicial independence since being appointed to the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush in 2005. In his new report, the chief justice called the judiciary “a source of national unity and stability” but added a cautionary note.

“We should also remember that justice is not inevitable,” Roberts wrote in a passage directed at his judicial colleagues. “We should reflect on our duty to judge without fear or favor, deciding each matter with humility, integrity, and dispatch.”

Roberts, 64, is in the middle of a challenging Supreme Court term that includes cases on LGBTQ discrimination, abortion and gun rights. In late March or early April the court will hear arguments on Trump’s effort to prevent his financial information from being turned over to Congress and a New York grand jury.

Roberts released the report three days after his mother, Rosemary A. Roberts, died at age 90. Her obituary said she was surrounded by her family when she passed away.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Stohr in Washington at gstohr@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo, Anna Edgerton

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