Durbin asks Roberts to testify on Supreme Court ethics issues

“The time has come for a new public dialogue on ways to restore confidence in the judiciary
Ethical standards. I invite you to join,” Durbin added.

A Supreme Court spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether Roberts plans to accept Durbin’s invitation.

Asked by reporters Thursday if he planned to subpoena the chief justice if he did not agree to appear voluntarily, Durbin, a longtime Justice Department official, said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) mentions Democrats’ current difficulties with the absence. A committee member who has been away from the Senate for several months due to medical reasons.

“We want a majority. I don’t have a majority,” Durbin said bluntly, adding that he hoped Roberts would agree. “Nobody has any discussion about subpoenas at this point.”

One Republican on the panel, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis expressed concern that the trial with Roberts could devolve into a stalemate over issues unrelated to ethical procedures in court.

“You’ll quickly see it become a political show from both ends of the spectrum,” Tillis said. “We can see it becoming something that has nothing to do with matter.”

Tillis also said that justices should decide how to resolve ethics complaints, and he questioned whether the high court’s general stance has really been eroded.

“If anything, they have to decide for themselves what they need to do to regain the confidence they think they’ve lost, if they actually think they’ve lost it,” Tillis said.

Durbin’s letter stated that Roberts “will not be expected to answer senators’ questions,” but it appears that Durbin will not be able to prevent his colleagues from using this method of asking questions.

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If Roberts didn’t want to meet with him, the chief justice offered an alternative: He could send another judge in his place.

The Supreme Court is not bound by the ethics doctrine that applies to other federal judges and has no formal process for reviewing ethics complaints. Roberts said judges consult the Code of Ethics for Judges and rely on various authorities in determining how to resolve ethical issues.

Democratic lawmakers have proposed imposing an ethics code and process on the Supreme Court through legislation if the court does not enact such reforms.

In the last appearance before a congressional committee by members of the Supreme Court in 2019, Justices Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan attended a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the high court’s budget.

Kagan told the hearing that the justices had been debating an ethics code, but that no such rule had been adopted by the high court in four years.

In his letter and to reporters, Durbin noted that a pair of justices — Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer — testified before the Judiciary Committee in 2011.

The call for Roberts to testify came in the wake of ProPublica’s reports that Thomas frequently vacationed, sometimes on private jets, with wealthy Texas real estate developer Harlan Crowe, who bought Thomas’ childhood home and neighboring properties.

Thomas said in a statement that he tried to adhere to financial disclosure requirements that apply to all federal judges and that Crow’s “personal hospitality” was not required to be disclosed. Justice Thomas, the court’s oldest and longest-serving judge, would not comment on the sale of his mother’s home to Crow or why it was not reported.

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