Fact Check: Did Chief Justice Roberts Refuse to Preside Over Trump's Impeachment Trial?

Donald Trump's first impeachment trial, which concluded in early 2020, was presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts.

With Trump's second impeachment trial scheduled to begin on February 9, there had been speculation about who would preside over the unprecedented trial of a former president?

On Monday, Newsweek reported that Patrick Leahy (D- Vt.), the Senate President pro tempore, will preside.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is refusing to preside over an impeachment trial of a Former President.

Fact, it is NOT an impeachment trial but another political stunt by the Democrats.

Where is all the unity we were promised?

— Jevon O.A. Williams (@JevonWilliamsVI) January 25, 2021

The Claim

After it was reported that Leahy would preside instead of Roberts, some Twitter users put the blame on Roberts.

Jevon O.A. Williams, a member of the U.S. Virgin Islands Republican Party, claimed that the chief justice refused to preside.

Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) called the Senate pro tempore presiding "unprecedented," asking how a juror can also be the presiding judge.

Unprecedented; never happened in all of American history. So there isn't a Senate rule or constitutional provision authorizing this. How does a Senator preside, like a judge, and serve as juror too? #conflictofinterest https://t.co/CBGGzE2FDC

— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) January 25, 2021

The Facts

Article 1, Section 3, Clause 6 of the United States Constitution states: "The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present."

The Constitution requires the involvement of the chief justice only when the president is on trial. Since Trump no longer is president, there is no requirement for the chief justice to be involved.

In 2010, when former federal Judge Thomas Porteous was impeached, Senate President Pro Tempore Daniel Inouye presided over the trial.

The Ruling


Newsweek found no evidence that Roberts refused or was even asked to preside over the trial, nor does he have any legal obligation to do so.

The chief justice is required to preside over impeachment trials involving only sitting presidents.

patrick leahy donald trump impeachment trial
Senator Patrick Leahy will preside over former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate, not Chief Justice John Roberts. Leahy speaks as Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) listens during a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol after a boycott of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court on October 22, 2020, in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong/Getty
False: The claim is demonstrably false. Primary source evidence proves the claim to be false.
Read more about our ratings.

Editor's pick

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts