Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at an abortion-rights rally...

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at an abortion-rights rally Wednesday outside the U.S. Supreme Court. Credit: AP / Jose Luis Magana

This is how political theater now plays out.

Speaking at an abortion-rights rally last Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a vague-but-dark warning to two Supreme Court justices that earned him a rare public rebuke from Chief Justice John G. Roberts.

Schumer later gave a limited apology on the Senate floor, but only after drawing an extra dose of national attention to his abortion-rights shout. 

The tempest began when he stood outside the U.S. Supreme Court and warned President Donald Trump's appointees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, by name: "You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price.

"You won't know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions."

Roberts' response: “Threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous.”

Schumer's words may have raised eyebrows because he's been far from a militant extremist. He might have pleased activist allies with the warning, which critics played up as a threat of violence but which he termed strictly political.

Last Thursday, Schumer said on the Senate floor: "I shouldn’t have used the words I did, but in no way was I making a threat. I never — never — would do such a thing.”

The senator took the occasion to repeat his assertion that Republicans in Congress are afraid to vote on abortion restrictions that they want conservatives on the court to impose.

A significant abortion case, now before the court, involves a Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. 

Trump slammed Schumer. "Serious action MUST be taken NOW" for this "dangerous threat," he tweeted, without saying what such "action" could entail.

Other varieties of grandstanding against members of the high court are common. Trump recently demanded that liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor be recused from cases involving him, but with no practical result.

Roberts, who Trump blasted in 2016 as "a nightmare for conservatives," said Wednesday in his statement that the justices "will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter."

In 2018, following one of the president's many Twitter rants bitterly charging judicial bias in a lower court, Roberts lectured him: "We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges.

"What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a key Trump ally, said he opposes censuring Schumer, a hint that the Senate's GOP majority wasn't taking the dust-up too seriously.

"I don't want to start censuring everybody," Graham said. "If we start censuring him, they're going to want to censure Trump, and this stuff never ends."

Did Schumer last week take a page from Trump's playbook by blithely touching off alarms? Or did he just happen to go overboard?

Maybe it will attract more notice to his future rally performances.

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