Senate Presses Chief Justice for Ethics Details

April 27, 2023

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) said on Thursday he requested that Chief Justice John Roberts provide details about the Supreme Court’s ethics practices.

Durbin’s request came two days after Roberts told the Senator that he would “respectfully decline” an offer to testify before the Judiciary Committee on May 2. Instead, Roberts offered a statement signed by all the Justices in which they “reaffirm and restate foundational ethics principles and practices” to which they abide.

The Senator apparently did not find that the statement satisfied the committee’s investigatory needs.

“The statement of principles raises more questions than it resolves, and we request that you respond to several key questions,” Durbin said in his latest letter to Roberts.

The Judiciary Committee is investigating recent media reports that Justice Clarence Thomas had failed to disclose real estate dealings and luxury vacations provided to him by conservative political donor Harlan Crow.

On the same day that Roberts declined the Senate’s request, reports revealed that another Supreme Court Justice—Neil Gorsuch—had also failed to disclose the identity of a CEO who’s had business before the Supreme Court with whom Gorsuch had done a real estate deal that netted him between a quarter and a half million dollars.

Court ethics is an issue that’s come up before in recent months—most notably after someone in early May leaked a draft of the Supreme Court’s ultimate decision to overturn Roe v Wade in late June. The Court’s own internal investigation of the leak failed to finger the leaker.

As the Judiciary Committee is beginning its investigation, Sens. Angus King (I-ME) and Lisa Murkowski, (R-AK) introduced a bipartisan bill (since King caucuses with Democrats) that’s aimed at forcing the Supreme Court to establish a code of ethics within a year. Under the proposed legislation the Court would have to establish a code of conduct with rules published on its website, designate an official to address violations, and publish an annual report on any complaints and actions taken.

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