Supreme Court Chief Justice Responds to Ethics Concerns

Supreme Court Chief Justice Responds to Ethics Concerns

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has answered additional questions about ethics on the high court. In his response, Roberts revealed that the Supreme Court’s nine justices subscribed to a recently updated “Statement on Ethics Principles and Practices.” This follows revelations that Justice Clarence Thomas had failed to disclose luxurious vacations gifted to him and his wife by Republican billionaire Harlan Crow for more than two decades. Crow’s company also purchased Georgia property belonging to Thomas and his relatives without public disclosure. The Supreme Court is experiencing historically low levels of public approval, and the Judiciary Committee is eyeing how to improve ethics on the court.

Democratic Leadership Calls for Supreme Court Ethics Reform

The Democratic-led Judiciary Committee has called for meaningful Supreme Court ethics reform following Roberts’ response. Committee Chair, Sen. Dick Durbin, invited Roberts to testify before the panel about ethics reform on the court, but Roberts declined the invitation. In his response, Roberts included a statement of ethics principles and practices “to which all of the current Members of the Supreme Court subscribe.” However, Durbin sent another letter to Roberts, stating that the “statement of principles raises more questions than it resolves.” Durbin asked Roberts several questions, including whether justices receive guidance on which authorities to consult on ethical questions, whether justices face any consequences for omissions in their financial disclosure reports, and whether there is a process for the public to file complaints against justices for failing to abide by the statement.

In his response, Roberts wrote that justices consult a wide variety of guidance on ethics issues and offered a list of sources for such guidance. He also stated that the Judicial Conference Committee on Financial Disclosure inquired about justices’ disclosures and that there was a history of resolving such issues without penalties being imposed on justices. However, Roberts did not answer whether there is a process for a member of the public to file a complaint against the justices for failing to abide by the statement of principles. The Judiciary Committee will discuss ethics reform on the court further at a hearing.


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