On Wednesday, April 26, 2023, NBC News reported that Chief Justice John Roberts has declined an invitation from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin to testify at a congressional hearing on ethics rules for members of the Supreme Court.

In his letter to Durbin, Roberts cited concerns about preserving judicial independence and the separation of powers as reasons for declining the invitation. Roberts wrote, “Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by the Chief Justice of the United States is exceedingly rare, as one might expect in light of separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence.”

Chief Justice John Roberts included a statement of ethics principles and practices that are subscribed to by all current members of the Supreme Court.

Durbin had asked for Roberts to either participate or choose a justice to participate in a public hearing on May 2. The hearing would discuss the ethical regulations that apply to Supreme Court justices and any possible changes to those regulations.

Durbin referenced previous examples to support his invitation, pointing out that Justices Stephen Breyer and Antonin Scalia had testified in October 2011, and that their testimony involved lively discussions on the Supreme Court’s handling of ethical issues. He argued that these past instances set a precedent for current justices to also participate in public hearings on similar matters.

Following Roberts’ refusal to testify, Durbin mentioned Justice Thomas while stating that legislators must establish a code of ethics that can be enforced for the Supreme Court.

It was reported last month that billionaire and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow gave gifts and trips to Justice Clarence Thomas, which the latter did not disclose.

Durbin expressed his surprise at the Chief Justice’s assertion that the current legal ethics standards are sufficient and do not require revision, which he believed ignored the obvious. He referenced the ProPublica report, stating that Justice Clarence Thomas had received gifts in the form of trips on yachts and private jets, which were not disclosed to the public. Durbin also mentioned that Thomas had failed to report the sale of properties he owned in part to an individual with interests before the Supreme Court.

“It is time for Congress to accept its responsibility to establish an enforceable code of ethics for the Supreme Court, the only agency of our government without it,” Dublin added.

Apart from requesting Roberts’ participation in the hearing, the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have urged Roberts to conduct an investigation into the undisclosed gifts received by Justice Clarence Thomas.

On April 7, 2023, Thomas defended the lavish trips he accepted from Crow, by saying, “Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.  “I have endeavored to follow that counsel throughout my tenure, and have always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines,” Thomas added.

Apart from requesting Roberts’ participation in the hearing, the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have urged Roberts to conduct an investigation into the undisclosed gifts received by Justice Clarence Thomas.

On April 22, Senator Ron Wyden, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and a Democrat from Oregon initiated a separate inquiry into the matter requesting Harlan Crow, asking for a comprehensive record of all the trips, gifts, and payments made by Crow to Justice Clarence Thomas throughout the years.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, and Representative Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Georgia, raised concerns about the allegations against Justice Clarence Thomas. As a result, these concerns were referred last week to the Judicial Conference of the United States, a committee that reviews financial disclosures.

 

Source: NBC News