Chief Justice John Roberts credited the federal judiciary with promoting civic education in a time when misinformation can spread rapidly online, but warned Americans "have come to take democracy for granted."
Roberts highlighted the importance of an independent federal judiciary and the need for civic education in his annual year-end report. The message from the chief justices closing out 2019 comes ahead of the Senate's expected impeachment trial, over which Roberts will preside.
"We have come to take democracy for granted, and civic education has fallen by the wayside," Roberts wrote. "In our age, when social media can instantly spread rumor and false information on a grand scale, the public's need to understand our government, and the protections it provides, it ever more vital."
The chief justice said the federal courts have sought to enhance Americans' understanding of government by making their opinions more accessible to the public and developing educational programs and products.
Roberts also highlighted the involvement of judges in civic outreach, citing retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who created a nonprofit that provides free resources for students, and referencing, though not by name, Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, who has spent the last two decades tutoring at a Washington, D.C., elementary school.
Garland was nominated to the Supreme Court by former President Obama following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, but Senate Republicans refused to consider his nomination. President Trump ultimately appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy.
Roberts heralded the independence of the federal judiciary and urged his fellow judges to "continue their efforts to promote public confidence in the judiciary."
"We should celebrate our strong and independent judiciary, a key source of national unity and stability," Roberts wrote. "But we should also remember that justice is not inevitable. We should reflect on our duty to judge without fear or favor, deciding each matter with humility, integrity, and dispatch."
The chief justice defended the federal courts from attacks by Mr. Trump in a rare rebuke in 2018. The president often accuses judges who rule against him and his policies of bias. After Mr. Trump described a judge who blocked his new migrant asylum policy as an "Obama judge," Roberts issued a statement stressing the U.S. does not have "Obama judges, Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges."