Chief Justice John Roberts seeks to reassure the public about Supreme Court ethics

Chief Justice John Roberts seeks to reassure the public about Supreme Court ethics

Tom Williams/AP

In this file photo, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts attends President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on February 7, 2023.


Chief Justice John Roberts said on Tuesday evening he wanted to assure the public that the Supreme Court was committed to the “highest standards of conduct”, appearing to be directing his remarks at critics of the High Court amid recent ethical controversies.

“We continue to examine the things we can do to give practical effect to this commitment, and I am convinced that there are ways of doing this that are compatible with our status as an independent branch of government under the separation. powers,” Roberts told an audience gathered in Washington, D.C., for an event hosted by the American Law Institute, where he received a medal honoring the late Justice Henry J. Friendly.

The comments by Roberts, a former Friendly lawyer, come as members of Congress and public interest groups pressure the court to adopt a code of conduct for judges, after revelations that the judge Clarence Thomas had accepted lavish trips from a GOP donor. and had engaged in private real estate transactions without making disclosures on his financial disclosure forms.

Roberts’ speech seemed to suggest that the court may soon have more to say about efforts to increase transparency in ethical practices. But the leader also appeared to underscore his concern that Congress is not getting involved in the internal affairs of a separate branch of government. Roberts last month declined a request to testify before Congress at a Supreme Court ethics hearing.

Roberts also lamented the current state of public discourse on Tuesday night, referring to a recent event where a judge was heckled during a law school appearance and protesters outside judges’ homes demanded 24-hour protection. / 24 and 7/7.

Roberts said the “toughest decision” he had to make in the past 18 years was whether to “put up fences and barricades around the Supreme Court.” Closing fell before the start of the current term.

“Inside the court,” however, there are “reasons for optimism,” he said, reiterating that the judges never raised their voices angrily during their private conferences.

“We deal with some of the most contentious issues in the country, but we have a collegial relationship with each other,” he said.

Roberts’ appearance comes as the judges have entered the tensest time of the year as they race to complete opinions before the self-set deadline of late June. The toughest cases are often left until last, and judges deliberate on issues such as affirmative action, voting rights and religious freedom.

The court is further still reeling from the drama of the last term, when a landmark draft opinion quashing Roe v. Wade was leaked to the press – an event that would spark protests across the country and an investigation into the leaks at the High Court. The investigation has so far yielded no results.

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