Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) has condemned Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts for declining an invitation from the Senate to testify in an upcoming hearing regarding the ethics of the Supreme Court, as spurred by recent revelations of corruption among justices.
On Tuesday, Roberts sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) saying that he “must respectfully decline” the invitation to testify before the committee next week. He wrote that it is “exceedingly rare” for a chief justice to appear before Congress — though some lawmakers have pointed out that the circumstances necessitating his appearance are also extreme, and warrant an equally extreme response.
Ocasio-Cortez said on Tuesday that Roberts bears responsibility for the current corruption on the High Court, and denounced his decision not to appear in the Senate.
“Under Roberts, the Supreme Court has unraveled constitutional rights and seen several justices engage in corrupt financial arrangements. Now he is refusing to answer questions,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.
“How does Roberts expect SCOTUS to maintain authority if they reject accountability themselves?” she asked.
The lawmaker has previously said that, if Roberts refuses to act to rein in the appalling corruption of Supreme Court justices, his legacy as chief justice will be forever tarnished.
“Barring some dramatic change, this is what the Roberts court will be known for: rank corruption, erosion of democracy, and the stripping of human rights,” Ocasio-Cortez said earlier this month, after ProPublica published the bombshell report regarding right-wing Justice Clarence Thomas that’s now spurring widespread calls for reform within the Supreme Court. She called for Thomas to be impeached over the revelations.
Roberts has indeed been heavily criticized over his refusal to testify, with critics noting that it is only the latest example of Roberts refusing to acknowledge ethics concerns regarding Thomas in past decades, as members of the Senate Judiciary Committee raised when they announced the hearing this month.
Indeed, his refusal to testify comes as reporters are uncovering a seemingly unprecedented level of corruption on the Supreme Court. Just in the past few weeks, reports have uncovered that Thomas has for decades received lavish gifts from and sold property to a GOP billionaire megadonor without disclosing it, and that Neil Gorsuch has skirted disclosure requirements to hide his property sale to the CEO of a major law firm that frequently appears before the Court.
The reports have shown that justices seemingly can’t even follow the lax rules that Supreme Court justices are legally bound to. Experts have said that Thomas’s failure to disclose his financial ties with billionaire Harlan Crow have broken disclosure laws, but that there is a culture of impunity for justices. Meanwhile, there seems to be little way to act against the glaring ethics concerns on display, because the Supreme Court is the only court in the U.S. that’s not legally bound to an ethics code.
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed deep frustration over Roberts’s refusal to testify, and have called for the Supreme Court to be bound to an ethics code.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) wrote that the fact that Roberts isn’t willing to enforce ethics guidelines means that there are essentially no rules regarding the Supreme Court.
“The gaping hole in today’s response from Roberts to the Senate Judiciary Committee is that it overlooks the complete failure of process regarding ethics questions involving the justices. When there’s no ref, there’s no rule, as a practical matter,” Whitehouse wrote. “The liberties that justices have taken are egregious, as they take advantage of there being no ref to read the rules to suit their convenience.”
Durbin criticized Roberts for ignoring the fact that Thomas has repeatedly violated not just ethics standards, but also disclosure laws. “I am surprised that the Chief Justice’s recounting of existing legal standards of ethics 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. That same Justice failed to disclose the sale of properties he partly owned to a party with interests before the Supreme Court,” Durbin said in a statement.
“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,” he added.