Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to Field Questions Over Ethics

By: David Donovan | Published: Jun 21, 2024

Democrats in Congress Jamie Raskin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez raised doubt about whether Chief Justice John Roberts has made any move to address the scandals encompassing the Supreme Court, in a letter acquired by CNN.

The Democratic duo asked Roberts to respond to five written questions about the actions he has taken as chief justice and presiding officer of the Judicial Conference to investigate the Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito’s mounting ethics scandals. 

Thomas and Alito

There are apparent conflicts of interest Thomas and Alito appear to have in the two cases involving former President Donald Trump that are currently before the Supreme Court. 

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The Constitution Turns 225. Justice Clarence Thomas and Akhil Reed Amar

Earl McDonald - National Archives and Records Administration

The pair of Democrats also pressed Roberts to outline the criteria for recusal decisions and inquire as to whether those criteria have been followed.

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Political Tension

The letter is the most recent manifestation of the conflict that exists between Democrats on Capitol Hill, who have been calling for stricter ethics regulations for more than a year, and Republicans on the Supreme Court, where they currently hold a 6-3 majority. 

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Sonny Perdue is sworn in as the 31st Secretary of Agriculture by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Public approval of the court is at an all-time low as a result of a string of ethics scandals involving Thomas and, more recently, Alito.

Increased Pressure

The letter from Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez, who both serve on the GOP-led House Oversight Committee, comes closely following Roberts declining a May demand from Democratic congresspersons to meet on this issue.

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Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders in December 2018

Senate Democrats

In a letter to Roberts, the two wrote, “Since you have refused to meet with Congress, we question what steps you are actually taking as either the Chief Justice or the presiding officer of the Judicial Conference to investigate these glaring episodes of political bias and lack of disclosure.”

Extravagant Trips

Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez slam Roberts in their letter for not being upfront about Thomas’s failure to disclose extravagant trips on his financial disclosure forms. 

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking to attendees at a rally for Bernie Sanders in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Matt A.J.

Thomas is under increased pressure for presents he got from Harlan Crow, a GOP megadonor who offered Thomas and his wife lavish get-aways, private plane trips, paid for the educational costs of a Thomas relative, and engaged in an unusual real estate deal in relation to the home of Thomas’ mother.

Thomas’s Failure

“Investigative journalists and Senate investigators — not the Judicial Conference — have been the ones to break the silence and reveal Justices Thomas’s failure to comply with basic disclosure requirements,” the officials stated in their letter.

President George W. Bush watches Thursday, Sept. 29, 2005 in the East Room of the White House in Washington, as Judge John G. Roberts is sworn-in

Records of the White House Photo Office

Roberts argued, “Separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence counsel against such appearances,” when declining the invitation to meet with Senate Democrats.

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Unclear Code

After months of news stories alleging that some of the justices had been skirting ethics regulations, the Supreme Court under Roberts’ leadership announced a new code of conduct in 2023 in an effort to increase public confidence in the court. 

The Supreme Court as composed June 30, 2022 to present

Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

However, the justices acknowledged that they had more work to do, including financial disclosures, but failed to explain how the code would operate or who would enforce it.

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Time Constraint

In their letter, Ocasio-Cortez and Raskin stated that they need a response from Roberts by July 5.

AFGE leaders and activists gather in Washington, D.C. for the union's annual Legislative Conference as Jamie Raskin speaks

Flickr user AFGE

Concerns have been raised over two controversial flags that have been flown at Alito’s residences in Virginia and New Jersey that suggest sympathy with people who protested President Joe Biden’s election victory over Trump in 2020. 

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Alito’s Letter

Alito informed lawmakers in a letter last month that he will not recuse himself from cases involving the presidential election in 2020 or the riot on January 6, 2021, at the US Capitol. 

President Donald J. Trump watches as U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito swears-in new Secretary of Defense Mark Esper

Flickr user The White House

Thomas’s wife was in attendance at the rally that Trump held on January 6, 2021, shortly before the attack on the US Capitol.

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Virginia Thomas

Virginia “Ginni” Thomas has made previous efforts to reverse the 2020 presidential election in Trump’s favor. 

Virginia Thomas with Clarence Thomas as they are speaking while clapping

X user MadeInTheUSANJ

Despite this Thomas has stated that he will not recuse himself from a high-stakes case regarding whether Trump enjoys presidential immunity from criminal prosecution.

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Capitol Riots

Major cases concerning the 2020 election and the attack on the US Capitol are being considered by the Supreme Court. 

Outside during the US Capitol during the January 6, 2021 attack on the building

Flickr user Tyler Merbler

In one, the judges are considering Trump’s case of total immunity from special counsel Jack Smith’s election subversion charges.

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Obstruction Charge

In another, a January 6 agitator is challenging an obstruction charge documented against him by prosecutors.

Trump speaking at the "Stop the Steal" rally on January 6, 2021

Facebook user Voice of America

This case contends that Congress planned that regulation to apply to individuals obliterating evidence, not storming a government building.

The mounting pressure on the Supreme Court will no doubt increase as we come into the election cycle as two potential nominations are up for grabs in the next presidential term.

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