On Tuesday, Chief Justice Roberts received a letter asking for him to appear and testify at a Senate hearing next month surrounding ethical rules followed by the Supreme Court and any potential modifications that could be made.
There is a clear push for at least some policies to be changed: Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) letter to Roberts stressed that “The status quo is no longer tenable.”
The Supreme Court chief justice declined the request and noted that such summonings are “exceedingly rare.” In a letter rejecting the request, Roberts pointed out that it is quite unprecedented, as chief justices have only appeared for Senate testimony twice in the past 102 years.
“I must respectfully decline your invitation,” he wrote.
“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 additionally highlighted the lack of precedent in U.S. presidents testifying before Congress, writing, “No President has ever testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and only three Presidents (in 1862, 1919, and 1974) have testified before any Congressional committee.”
The Supreme Court justice also shared the court’s Statement of Ethics Principles and Practices “to which all of the current Members of the Supreme Court subscribe.”
Some have been angered by Roberts’ refusal to testify before Congress, including longtime left-wing activist Walter Shaub, who told MSNBC’s Katie Phang it would be “positively disgraceful” for the chief justice to not accept Durbin’s request.
Durbin’s desire for Roberts to appear for testimony comes after a ProPublica report earlier this month claimed that OP megadonor and billionaire Harlan Crow gave Justice Clarence Thomas trips and gifts that he did not reveal to the public, according to NBC News.
The high-ranking Democrat Senator was seemingly unhappy with Robert’s decision to not testify; he vowed Tuesday that the Senate will ensure Supreme court ethics reform takes place “whether the Court participates in the process or not.”
“I am surprised that the Chief Justice’s recounting of existing legal standards of ethics suggests current law is adequate and ignores the obvious. The actions of one Justice, including trips on yachts and private jets, were not reported to the public. That same Justice failed to disclose the sale of properties he partly owned to a party with interests before the Supreme Court,” Durbin proclaimed Tuesday.
“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.”
Thomas has addressed the controversy surrounding his trip with Crow, explaining that he has received guidance from other colleagues in the court that indicates the gifts and trips were not “reportable.”