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Durbin Statement on Chief Justice Roberts Declining to Testify Before the Judiciary Committee Regarding Supreme Court Ethics

Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Supreme Court ethics to be held on May 2 at 10:00 a.m. in room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today released the following statement after Chief Justice John Roberts declined Durbin’s invitation for the Chief Justice, or another Justice whom he designates, to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 2 to testify at a public hearing regarding Supreme Court ethics reform.  The Chief Justice’s response is available here.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee will proceed with our May 2 hearing, which will review common sense proposals to hold Supreme Court justices to, at minimum, the same ethical standards and baseline level of accountability that bind the rest of the federal judiciary and the executive and legislative branches.  I extended an invitation to the Chief Justice, or his designate, in an attempt to include the Court in this discussion.  But make no mistake: Supreme Court ethics reform must happen whether the Court participates in the process or not.

“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.

“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.”

According to the Congressional Research Service, since 1960, Supreme Court Justices have appeared before Congress to testify in at least 92 hearings, addressing such issues as the constitutional role of judges, judicial security, annual appropriations for the courts, and judicial compensation. 

On April 10, Durbin and his Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic colleagues sent a letter to the Chief Justice urging him to take swift action to address reported conduct by Justices that is inconsistent with the ethical standards the American people expect of public servants.  The letter noted that as far back as 2012, Judiciary Committee Democrats had written the Chief Justice urging that the Court adopt a resolution binding the Justices to the same Code of Conduct that binds all other federal judges.  The letter advised that the Committee would hold an upcoming hearing, and that if the Court doesn’t resolve this issue on its own, the Committee will consider legislation to resolve it.

Durbin received a response letter from the Secretary of the Judicial Conference of the United States and it stated that the Senators’ April 10 letter was referred to the Judicial Conference and forwarded to the Judicial Conference Committee on Financial Disclosure.