The four-minute walk from the Supreme Court Building to the north wing of the Capitol represents not only a change of venue but a transfer of power.
Between the time Chief Justice John Roberts leaves his marble palace and enters the people’s house, in the time it takes him to walk 290 feet from his courtroom to the Senate chamber, his judicial robe will either have unraveled or remained intact. Either the pleated yokes and padded shoulders will sag, either the tight cuffs and billowing sleeves will soften, either the horsehair canvas and silken lining will slacken—either Roberts will have sundered his gown and shed his propriety—or he will do his duty.
In a Senate impeachment trial of President Trump, Roberts’s job is to preside.
He is to oversee the proceedings without overruling the way the Senate works. He is to view the process without voting on the outcome, because he has no say—he has no vote—in a trial that is a matter of politics, not justice.
He need only look at the TV cameras on the Senate floor to recognize where he is.
He need only look at his ticket, and the four guest passes he is to receive, to remember what he is to do.
He is to attend a spectacle. He is to adjust his judicial antennae, so he may attune himself to the role of spectator.
The circus may try his patience, but the trial promises to end before it begins.