Unlike the first Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, over which Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts presided, the second Senate impeachment trial, which is scheduled to commence on February 8, will not see Roberts presiding — Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who is the Senate President Pro Tempore, will preside.
On Monday, Leahy, who voted to impeach Trump in the first impeachment trial, said he would administer “impartial justice,” according to The Hill.
Leahy released a statement in which he said:
The president pro tempore has historically presided over Senate impeachment trials of non-presidents. When presiding over an impeachment trial, the president pro tempore takes an additional special oath to do impartial justice according to the Constitution and the laws. It is an oath that I take extraordinarily seriously.
I consider holding the office of the president pro tempore and the responsibilities that come with it to be one of the highest honors and most serious responsibilities of my career. When I preside over the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, I will not waver from my constitutional and sworn obligations to administer the trial with fairness, in accordance with the Constitution and the laws.
Longtime Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the Judiciary Committee, criticized the idea of Leahy presiding, saying:
The Constitution requires that the chief justice preside over the impeachment trial of a president but that’s not what we’re doing. To me that’s indicative of the fact that we’re in uncharted waters. I just think it looks very petty and vindictive and I understand there are a lot of people who are mad but the process itself already looks like a railroad job.
Cornyn added that a Democrat presiding “really undermines the legitimacy.”
Kentucky GOP Senator Rand Paul echoed, “If the chief justice doesn’t preside, I think it’s an illegitimate hearing and really goes to show that it’s not really constitutional to impeach someone who’s not president.”
Leahy bristled, “I have presided over hundreds of hours in my time in the Senate. I don’t think anybody has ever suggested I was anything but impartial in those hundreds of hours. … I’m not presenting the evidence. I’m making sure that procedures are followed. I don’t think there’s any senator who over the 40-plus years I’ve been here that would say that I am anything but impartial in voting on procedure.”
Last week, the day before Joe Biden was inaugurated as President of the United States, Politico reported, “We’re hearing that Roberts, who for years has sought to keep the courts apolitical, was not happy he became a top target of the left during Trump’s first impeachment trial. ‘He wants no further part of this,’ one of our Hill sources says.”
In the midst of Trump’s first impeachment trial, New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer asked Roberts if he would break a tie vote if there were one. Roberts answered, “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. 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.”