U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts poses during a group portrait at the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., October 7, 2022.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday invited Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to testify next month before the panel about ethics reform of the court.
The invitation to Roberts by Sen. Dick Dubin, D-Ill., came in the wake of a series of revelations about Justice Clarence Thomas that have reignited calls for the Supreme Court to better police the conduct of its own members.
On April 6, ProPublica reported that the conservative Thomas failed for nearly two decades years to disclose luxurious trips paid for by Republican billionaire donor Harlan Crow.
Last week, the same news outlet reported that Thomas failed to disclose that Crow had purchased property from Thomas and his relatives, which included a house where Thomas’ mother still lives.
On Monday, The Washington Post reported that Thomas on financial disclosure forms for more than 20 years had claimed to have earned income from a Nebraska real estate firm that has been closed since 2006.
In his letter Thursday to Roberts, Durbin wrote, “Your last significant discussion of how Supreme Court Justices address ethical issues was presented in your 2011 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary.”
“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.
“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,” Durbin wrote. “The status quo is no longer tenable.
“The time has come for a new public conversation on ways to restore confidence in the Court’s ethical standards. I invite you to join it, and I look forward to your response.”
A Supreme Court spokeswoman did not immediately respond to CNBC when asked if Roberts would accept Durbin’s invitation.
If Roberts does not voluntarily agree to testify, Congress could be left with few options to compel testimony.
While Supreme Court justices have testified before congressional appropriations committees regarding the budget for the high court, there is no clear precedent for asking a justice to testify about ethical standards for his or her colleagues.
Following ProPublica’s revelations about Thomas’ financial relationship with Crow, the left-leaning group Common Cause sent a letter to both the House and Senate judiciary committees urging them to invite both Thomas and Roberts to testify.
“We strongly urge you… to hold hearings that examine exactly what happened — including testimony from Justice Thomas — and put it on the record for the American people,” wrote Marilyn Carpinteyro, interim co-president of Common Cause.
Unlike the Senate, where Democrats have a majority, the Republican-controlled House is unlikely to take action in response to the ProPublica reporting.
At a Capitol Hill press conference Thursday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was asked whether he had any concerns about Thomas accepting gifts from Crow that were never disclosed.
“No, not at all,” McCarthy replied. “Not at all.”
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