Supreme Court chief justice asked to testify before Senate on ethics rules after Clarence Thomas revelations

John Roberts has been asked to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on 2 Ma

Abe Asher
Thursday 20 April 2023 21:23 BST
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Chief Justice John Roberts has been summoned to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to give testimony regarding ethnics rules for Supreme Court justices following recent revelations about Justice Clarence Thomas’ finances.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, sent Mr Roberts a letter on Thursday asking him to appear on 2 May.

Mr Durbin wrote that since Mr Roberts’ last public discussion of ethical rules for justices back in 2011, “there has been a steady stream of revelations regarding Justices falling short of the ethical standards expected of other federal judges and, indeed, of public servants generally.

“These problems were already apparent back in 2011, and the Court’s decade-long failure to address them has contributed to a crisis of public confidence,” Mr Durbin wrote. “The status quo is no longer tenable.”

Mr Durbin’s letter did not explicitly name Mr Thomas, but the request for Mr Roberts’ testimony comes in light of ProPublica’s extensive reporting on Mr Thomas’ failure to disclose gifts, financial benefits, and luxury travel from Republican megadonor Harlan Crow.

Subsequent reporting has exposed further omissions and errors in Mr Thomas’ financial disclosure forms, including Mr Thomas’ decision to claim income from a defunct real estate firm and failure to report his wife’s six-figure income from the Hertiage Foundation.

A number of Democrats have called for investigations into Mr Thomas’ conduct, while some have called for him to be impeached over the issues and alleged conflicts of interest.

Mr Durbin has not gone that far, but his invitation to Mr Roberts suggests that he would like more information about what is acceptable ethical conduct for Supreme Court justices.

“The opportunity for the American people to hear from Justices in this setting presents a moment that could strengthen faith in our public institutions,” Mr Durbin said. “The time has come for a new public conversation on ways to restore confidence in the Court’s ethical standards.”

Mr Durbin wrote that Mr Roberts can designate another justice to take his place in the committee room on 2 May if he so chooses, and assured him that questions from his colleagues would be limited to matters of ethics.

The Supreme Court is facing a legitimacy crisis, but not exclusively because of the latest revelations around Mr Thomas. The Court is also facing a perception that it is a political organ of minority rule, owing in large part to former President Donald Trump’s appointment of three conservative justices despite losing the popular vote and its unpopular decision to overturn Roe v Wade.

Mr Durbin’s Senate Judiciary Committee has issues of its own. With Senator Dianne Feinstein in the hospital and no date set for her return to work, the Democrats are currently unable to advance judicial nominations opposed by Republicans.

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