Chief Justice John Roberts has declined an invitation from Senate Democrats, saying he will not testify about ethics standards at the Supreme Court.
In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, Roberts wrote Tuesday “I must respectfully decline your invitation.” The request was made last week as lawmakers consider an ethics reform bill, following reports Justice Clarence Thomas accepted luxury trips from a Republican donor.
“Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by the Chief Justice of the United States is exceedingly rare, as one might expect in light of separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence,” Roberts wrote. The chief justice attached a signed Statement of Ethics Principles and Practices to which he noted, “All of the current Members of the Supreme Court subscribe.”
Earlier this month, ProPublica reported Thomas and his wife had taken numerous trips on Republican donor Harlan Crow’s personal jet, super yacht and at his luxury retreats for the past 20 years. Thomas said the trips were not disclosed on his public financial filings because the ethics guidelines in effect at the time had not required it.
Durbin, D-Ill., asked Roberts to testify before the committee on May 2, after acknowledging that the court had not addressed ethical issues since its 2011 year-end report.
“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 last week in his invitation to Roberts.
On Tuesday, Durbin responded to Roberts’ refusal to testify.
“I am surprised that the Chief Justice’s recounting of existing legal standards of ethics suggests current law is adequate and ignores the obvious,” Durbin said in a statement. “The actions of one Justice, including trips on yachts and private jets, were not reported to the public.”
“Make no mistake: Supreme Court ethics reform must happen whether the Court participates in the process or not,” Durbin added.
“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.”
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