Earlier this year, a group of Democrats urged Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to open a probe into Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito after journalists uncovered egregious corruption in the form of alleged violations of the court’s ethics code and financial disclosure requirements.
Chief Justice Roberts rebuffed their call, as new reporting reveals, with just one sentence — revealing his apparent disinterest in reining in rampant corruption on his court.
According to a letter obtained by The Hill, Roberts didn’t even personally address the lawmakers. Supreme Court Legal Counsel Ethan Torrey, writing on behalf of Roberts, replied instead, saying simply that, “The Chief Justice has asked me to acknowledge your letter dated June 27, 2023, and to thank you very much for bringing your concerns about these important matters to his attention.”
This single sentence, sent in July, is the entirety of the reply that lawmakers received from the court, The Hill reports.
In June, 18 House Democrats, led by Rep. Dan Goldman (D-New York), called on the chief justice to establish an independent body to investigate potential ethics breaches by justices, especially with regard to Thomas and Alito.
“We write to express our grave concerns about the Supreme Court’s lack of internal structure to properly enforce the ethical standards to which you have repeatedly asserted that the Court adheres,” the lawmakers wrote. “It has become abundantly clear to us that the current internal mechanism employed by the Court is not sufficient to prevent either the real, or appearance of, impropriety of its members or to hold to account justices who break ethics rules.”
This week, 14 Democrats again led by Representative Goldman reiterated their call, pointing out even further astonishing findings that have come out since their first letter and expressing disappointment in the court’s “insufficient and unavailing” response.
“If the Court can and will police itself, as you have insisted, we once again urge you to take action. And if justices who have run roughshod over basic ethical standards are objecting to ethics reforms, then that further confirms the need for you to take decisive steps to restore confidence in the Court,” the lawmakers wrote. “We face escalating allegations of ethical transgressions by justices on the Court that would never be tolerated under the Judicial Code of Ethics applicable to all other judges.”
Watchdog group Accountable.US sharply criticized Roberts for his curt response, which the group called “the latest in a long pattern of arrogant inaction” from the chief justice.
“Chief Justice Roberts sat back and watched while the Supreme Court corruption crisis reached a fever pitch, causing public trust in his Court to plummet. His weak, one-sentence response completely fails to meet the moment,” said Accountable.US Senior Adviser Kyle Herrig in a statement. “Roberts himself has the power to change the ethics standards of our nation’s highest Court, but hasn’t shown the courage, forcing Congress to step in. Instead of dodging all responsibility, the Chief Justice should clean up his Court.”
Roberts has been facing increasing scrutiny in recent months after failing to act on the myriad of ethical concerns in front of the court. He has both refused to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee and has led the court in refusing to adopt a binding ethics code. Lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and legal experts have since called for Roberts to face a subpoena that would force him to answer for Supreme Court corruption.
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