Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin invited Chief Justice John Roberts, or another justice whom he designates, to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s upcoming hearing on Supreme Court ethics rules.
Durbin sent a letter to Roberts on Thursday inviting him to appear at the hearing scheduled for May 2nd at 10 a.m., telling him the “status quo is no longer tenable” and pointing to an instance of Justices testifying before the committee over ten years ago as “precedent” for the invite. The invitation comes amid Democratic lawmakers’ calls for Clarence Thomas’ resignation following a ProPublica report on his alleged violation of ethics rules by accepting expense-paid vacations from his friend and billionaire real estate developer Harlan Crow, though Thomas is not mentioned in the letter.
“Your last significant discussion of how Supreme Court Justices address ethical issues was presented in your 2011 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary,” he wrote. “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. These problems were already apparent back in 2011, and the Court’s decade-long failure to address them has contributed to a crisis of public confidence.”
Chief Justice Roberts, I hope the American people can look forward to your testimony. https://t.co/A2GOpUpKyz
— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) April 20, 2023
It’s rare for a sitting Justice to testify before Congress, though Durbin writes there is “ample precedent,” pointing to the time then-Justices Stephen Breyer and Antonin Scalia testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 5, 2011.
“The opportunity for the American people to hear from Justices in this setting presents a moment that could strengthen faith in our public institutions,” he wrote, promising to limit the scope of the testimony to ethical rules and potential reforms.
Most recently, Justices Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government in 2019 to answer questions about the Court’s budget needs. Alito said during the hearing that applying a code of conduct to the Supreme Court could potentially raise constitutional issues.
Durbin, along with other Senate Judiciary Democrats, also wrote to Roberts last week to request he open an investigation into Thomas to determine how “such conduct could take place at the Court” under his watch.
“The Senate Judiciary Committee, which has legislative jurisdiction over Federal courts and judges, has a role to play in ensuring that the nation’s highest court does not have the federal judiciary’s lowest ethical standards,” they wrote. “You have a role to play as well, both in investigating how such conduct could take place at the Court under your watch, and in ensuring that such conduct does not happen again.”
The Supreme Court did not immediately say whether Roberts would accept the invitation.
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