Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday said the Supreme Court is “continuing to look” at its ethical standards in the wake of recent controversies.
“On a final issue of concern inside the court, I want to assure people that I am committed to making certain that we as a court adhere to the highest standards of conduct,” Roberts said during the American Law Institute’s annual dinner.
“We are continuing to look at things we can do to give practical effect to that commitment, and I am confident there are ways to do that that are consistent with our status as an independent branch of government, under the Constitution’s separation of powers,” he added.
Democratic lawmakers have renewed their calls for the justices to adopt a binding code of ethics, like the one in place for other federal judges, after a series of ProPublica reports revealed undisclosed luxury trips that Justice Clarence Thomas accepted from GOP megadonor Harlan Crow. Several other justices have also come under scrutiny for ethical lapses.
Roberts last month declined to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the concerns, and the chief justice has previously questioned Congress’ constitutional authority to institute such a binding ethics code. Roberts also released a new statement of ethical principles signed by all nine justices.
Republicans, meanwhile, have protested Democrats’ criticism as a way to tear down the conservative-majority court.
Roberts made the comments while accepting the American Law Institute’s Henry J. Friendly Medal, named in honor of the late federal appeals court judge. Justice Elena Kagan presented Roberts with the award.
One of Friendly’s former law clerks, Roberts told the crowd of roughly 400 gathered at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., that they were the largest audience he had spoken in front of since the pandemic.
The chief justice paid tribute to his former boss but suggested Friendly would find recent events “deeply disappointing,” going on to reference a judge who was recently heckled at a college campus and protests at the Supreme Court justices’ homes last summer ahead of the court’s decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization abortion case.
The court put up eight-foot-tall fencing in the spring of 2022 in response to protests over a draft decision indicating judges were ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade. The fence was replaced with small barriers later that fall.
Roberts said the hardest decision he made was not any case that came before him as a judge.
“None of those,” Roberts said. “The hardest decision I had to make was whether to erect fences and barricades around the Supreme Court. I had no choice but to go ahead and do it.”
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization
supreme court abortion ruling
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