John Roberts avoids controversy in year-end report

Chief Justice John Roberts steered clear of controversy on Monday in a year-end report that praised the work of judges in general but avoided any direct criticism of President Donald Trump, who has launched several attacks on the judiciary.

As chief justice, Roberts presides over the Judicial Conference, a body that formulates judicial policies. In that role, Roberts issues a report at the end of each year to update the country on the state of the judiciary; the chief justice alone chooses the topic of the annual report.

In Monday’s effort, Roberts praised the work of judges but sought to keep the court as far as possible from the political rancor currently consuming the other branches of government.

Roberts refrained in the report from referring to Trump’s past controversial statements about the judiciary and avoided any mention of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial confirmation hearings.

Last month, Trump railed against the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals after a district court blocked the Trump administration from barring migrants who cross into the US illegally from seeking asylum. The President criticized the presiding judge of having improper political motivations and referred to him as an “Obama judge.”

Soon after, Roberts took the rare step of issuing a public rebuke.

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said in a statement given to the Associated Press. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

In Monday’s report, Roberts did not revisit the sentiment.

Instead, he broadly praised “caring and generous judges” who he said work “quietly and selflessly” to support the public good.

Roberts devoted the bulk of the report to an update on a judicial working group’s efforts to evaluate safeguards meant to protect judicial employees from inappropriate conduct in the work place.

Roberts had called for the review last year after 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski retired amid allegations of sexual misconduct from several former clerks and junior staffers.

In Monday’s report, Roberts said the working group — comprised of judges and senior judicial administrators — concluded that misconduct “when it does occur” is more likely to take the form of “incivility or disrespect” rather than “overt sexual harassment.”

Roberts said the review established that there are tools in place to maintain “positive workplace policies and practices” but that more could be done.

He directed the working group to remain in place over the next year to continue to monitor its recommendations.

“The job is not finished until we have done all that we can to ensure that all of our employees are treated with fairness, dignity, and respect,” Roberts wrote.