Chief Justice John Roberts said during an event Tuesday that the Supreme Court is considering steps to “adhere to the highest standards of conduct.”
At an event hosted by the American Law Institute, Roberts added that he was “committed” to ensuring the nine Justices meet those standards, though he did not give details one what that would entail.
The Supreme Court has fallen under public and legislative scrutiny since the non-profit organization ProPublica reported in April on Justice Clarence Thomas’ accepting high-priced luxury vacations from billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow—including one trip to Indonesia in 2009 that would have cost the Justice upwards of $500,000 if he’d footed the bill himself. Thomas failed to disclose these transactions.
On Tuesday Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) rebuked Crow for not providing adequate details about his financial dealings with Thomas, which involved not just the gifted trips but paying tens of thousands of dollars for the Justice’s grandnephew to attend at least two high-priced schools, as well as six figures in real estate purchases from Thomas—including buying his mother’s home and then letting her live in it free of charge.
In responding to Crow’s brush-off of a letter sent to him earlier this month by Democrats on the committee, Durbin reiterated a warning he’s made previously: that if the Chief Justice does not act to institute a new ethics code for the Justices, then Congress will have no choice but to do so.
On Tuesday night, Roberts signaled that he is wary of potential legislation from Congress, insisting that he was “confident there are ways” to ensure the Justices are meeting ethical obligations “that are consistent with our status as an independent branch of government under the Constitution’s separation of powers.”
In April Roberts “respectfully decline[d]” an offer to testify at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Supreme Court ethics.
That same day, reports revealed that Justice Neil Gorsuch had also failed to disclose the identity of a CEO with 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.
Later that month reports emerged that Roberts himself did not recuse from cases before the Supreme Court that involved a law firm that had paid his wife, Jane Roberts, millions in commissions for her recruiting services.
The U.S. Supreme Court is virtually the only court in the country without a formal code of ethics.