Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts responds to Senate ethics question


U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts awaits U.S. President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address during a joint session of the U.S. Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, United States, on February 4, 2020.

Leah Millis | Reuters

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts responded in a supplementary letter on Monday questions in regards to ethics to the high court – but the Senate Judiciary Committee was less than impressed with his response.

Roberts’ responses “further underscore the need for meaningful Supreme Court ethics reform, which the Committee will discuss at our hearing tomorrow,” the Democratic-led Judiciary Committee said in a Twitter post.

In the letter, Roberts revealed that the nine justices of the Supreme Court last Tuesday signed off on an update recently “Statement on Ethical Principles and Practices.”

This came after news articles revealing Justice Clarence Thomas had for more than two decades failed to disclose a luxury vacation given to him and his wife by Republican billionaire Harlan Crow, whose company also purchased a Georgia property owned by Thomas and his relatives.

Thomas, whose mother continues to live on one of these properties as a tenant of Crow’s company, also did not publicly disclose the purchase before ProPublica revealed it.

The revelations come as the Supreme Court experiences historically low levels of public approval.

The Judiciary Committee is studying how to improve the ethics of the court.

On April 20, committee chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., invited Roberts to testify before the panel on in-court ethics reform.

Roberts declined the invitation, writing to Durbin that his appearance before the committee could harm the independence of the judiciary, which, along with Congress, forms two of the three branches of the federal government.

Roberts’ response included a statement of ethical principles and practices “to which all current members of the Supreme Court subscribe.”

The Supreme Court, unlike lower federal courts, is not bound by a mandatory code of conduct.

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After Roberts refused to appear at the hearing, Durbin sent him another letter saying that “the statement of principles raises more questions than it answers.”

Durbin’s letter posed several questions to Roberts, including whether judges received guidance on which authorities to consult on ethical issues, whether judges faced consequences for omissions in their financial disclosure reports, and whether there was a process for the public to file complaints against judges for misconduct. respect the declaration.

In his Monday response, Roberts wrote that “as with any matter that may require research, judges consult a wide variety of counsel on ethical issues,” then offered a long list of sources for that advice, including “laws, judicial opinions”. .. and historical practice, among other sources.”

Roberts wrote that in the past, the Committee on Financial Disclosure has inquired into disclosures by judges, which in some cases ended without further action, and in others which resulted in judges being chosen or invited. to file an amended disclosure report.

“I am not aware of any instance in which a judge and the committee failed to resolve issues that led to an investigation,” the chief justice wrote.

“And, given the history of resolving these issues, I am not aware of any sanctions that have been imposed on judges for failing to adhere to the principles or practices set out in the statement,” he wrote. .

Roberts in his letter did not respond whether there is a process for a member of the public to file a complaint against the judges for failing to follow the statement of principles.

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