John Roberts 'Respectfully Declines' Senate Request to Testify

And ignores invitation to have another justice appear in his place
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 26, 2023 1:30 AM CDT
John Roberts on Senate Request to Testify on Supreme Court Ethics: Nope
Sen. Dick Durbin leaves a closed-door briefing about leaked highly classified military documents, Wednesday, April 19, 2023.   (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Chief Justice John Roberts has declined a request from the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify at a hearing next week on ethical standards at the court, instead providing the panel with a statement of ethics reaffirmed by the court's nine justices, the AP reports. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin invited Roberts' testimony last week, saying that there had been a “steady stream of revelations” regarding Supreme Court justices “falling short of ethical standards expected of other federal judges.” The invitation came after news reports that detailed a close relationship between Justice Clarence Thomas and a conservative donor from Texas. In "respectfully" declining to testify, Roberts ignored Durbin’s invitation to have another justice appear instead.

“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," Roberts' letter says. Accompanying the letter to Durbin was a “Statement on Ethics Principles and Practices” signed by all nine justices describing the ethical rules they follow about travel, gifts, and outside income. While the rules are not new, the statement said that the undersigned justices “today reaffirm and restate foundational ethics principles and practices to which they subscribe in carrying out their responsibilities as Members of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Nothing about Roberts’ letter or the statement attributed to all nine justices suggests that they feel chastened in any way by recent reports. But it is the first time the current membership has spoken on ethics issues as a group. Durbin said in a statement that he was surprised because the response from the court “suggests current law is adequate and ignores the obvious.” “The actions of one Justice, including trips on yachts and private jets, were not reported to the public,” Durbin said. “That same Justice failed to disclose the sale of properties he partly owned to a party with interests before the Supreme Court.” Durbin said he would proceed with the hearing, which will “review common sense proposals” to hold Supreme Court justices more accountable to ethics guidelines.

(More John Roberts stories.)

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