LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts and fellow Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg steered clear of saying anything about President Donald Trump's pick for a key high court post as they gave separate speeches Wednesday in Kentucky and Virginia.
Roberts looked to the court's past, not its future, during a speech at the University of Kentucky, one day after Trump announced Neil Gorsuch as his nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the high court. Roberts did not mention Gorsuch or any of Trump's recent executive orders
And Ginsburg — who was criticized for speaking against Trump during last year's presidential campaign — did not mention Gorsuch or take questions during an appearance at the Virginia Military Institute.
Roberts spoke about the Supreme Court justices who came from Kentucky, but made one joking allusion to the tensions in the nation's capital after Trump's first week in office.
"It's great to be here in Kentucky. One reason is it means I am not in Washington," he said.
Roberts did not take questions from the audience, but was questioned by James C. Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and a former University of Kentucky basketball player.
Ginsburg's visit to VMI was her first since writing a 1996 opinion that opened the then all-male school to women. Asked Wednesday about a prediction that the decision would destroy the Lexington, Virginia, school Ginsburg said to applause that she knew it wouldn't and that she knew it "would make VMI a better place."
Trump announced Gorsuch's nomination Tuesday night during a televised, primetime address from the White House — the first of his presidency. Gorsuch would replace Scalia, who died last year. Republicans praised Gorsuch's qualifications and urged the Senate to give him an up or down vote. But some Democrats vowed to block Gorsuch's appointment, much like Senate Republicans did with former President Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland last year.
For nearly a year, the Supreme Court has had eight justices instead of nine, leading to some tie votes. Roberts said the vacancy has meant the justices must "talk about cases a little more in conference if it looks like we are going to be evenly divided."
Asked about what has changed since Roberts was a law clerk for former Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Roberts noted the court doesn't handle as many cases. But he hinted that could be changing.
"Some people say it's been a while since Congress passed big pieces of legislation that generate a lot of litigation. I think that is changing now with Dodd-Frank, Obamacare, all these others. There will be a lot of cases coming out of those," he said.
Roberts said it's "critically important" for the justices to get along with each other, adding that a tradition of shaking hands before each court session helps foster a spirit of camaraderie. He offered an anecdote about former justices John Marshall Harlan and Horace Lurton, who served on opposite sides during the Civil War. Roberts cited a New York Observer story describing how Harlan might have fired cannons at Lurton's cavalry.
"I think that's the only example of one justice shooting at another," Roberts said.
He also joked about a bobcat that escaped this week from the National Zoo. As chief justice, he is chancellor of the Smithsonian, which operates the National Zoo.
"It wasn't my fault," he quipped.
Associated Press writer Jessica Gresko contributed reporting from Washington.