U.S. Supreme Court

Senate Judiciary Committee calls on Chief Justice Roberts to discuss ethics

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The Senate Judiciary Committee has asked Chief Justice John Roberts to testify at an upcoming public hearing after media reports raised ethics concerns about Justice Clarence Thomas.

In a letter sent Thursday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois and chairman of the committee, contended that Roberts hasn’t discussed how U.S. Supreme Court justices handle ethical issues since his 2011 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary. In that report, Roberts said justices “are jurists of exceptional integrity and experience whose character and fitness have been examined through a rigorous appointment and confirmation process.”

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

Durbin requested that Roberts or another designated justice appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 2 to address the ethical rules that government Supreme Court justices and potential reforms.

The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post have coverage.

ProPublica recently reported that billionaire Republican megadonor Harlan Crow has showered Thomas and his wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, with gifts of luxury travel for more than two decades. Thomas has traveled on Crow’s superyacht, flown on his private jet and stayed at his private resort in the Adirondacks in upstate New York and his ranch in Texas.

“These trips appeared nowhere on Thomas’ financial disclosures,” according to ProPublica.

Thomas has since said in a statement he was following advice when he did not report the trips on financial disclosure forms.

ProPublica also reported that a company owned by Crow bought a home and two vacant lots from Thomas and his relatives in 2014. Thomas did not disclose the transactions, according to the publication.

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that a request for an investigation of Thomas for alleged financial disclosure failures has been referred to the U.S. Judicial Conference’s Committee on Financial Disclosure.

In his letter to Roberts, Durbin said there is “ample precedent” for Supreme Court justices to testify before Congress, including about ethics matters.

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

The Supreme Court did not respond to requests for comment, according to the New York Times and other publications.

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