WASHINGTON -- Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. had sat patiently through nearly 12 hours of back-and-forth arguments in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump when tired, increasingly edgy attorneys on both sides began to grow louder and sharper around 1 a.m.
New York Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler, one of the House managers, accused the Republican senators of "voting for a cover-up" by rejecting Democratic motions to call witnesses. "Obviously a treacherous vote," he said.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone unloaded on Nadler. "The only one who should be embarrassed, Mr. Nadler, is you."
Roberts, who is unfailingly polite and courteous in presiding at the Supreme Court, had heard enough.
"It is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the president's counsel in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world's greatest deliberative body," he said. There, members "avoid speaking in a manner, and using language, that is not conducive to civil discourse."
He noted that in the 1905 trial of Judge Charles Swayne, who was impeached but acquitted of charges that included improper use of a private railroad car, a House manager was rebuked for using the word "pettifogging."
"I don't think we need to aspire to that high a standard," Roberts said, "but I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are," he said.
Coming so close to the end of a nearly 13-hour session in which Roberts had said nothing beyond the perfunctory procedural remarks required of his post as presiding officer, Roberts' polite smackdown surprised but also pleased senators from both parties, who said it set the right tone.
"I thought his admonishment was very balanced. He made a very clear point, but it fell equally on both sides. I think it sends the right signal," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
"It was a good thing for the chief justice to do on the first day," said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.