SCOTUS can address ethics as ‘independent branch,’ Chief Justice Roberts says amid Clarence Thomas attacks
The Supreme Court remains “committed” to ensuring that justices uphold the “highest standards of conduct,” Chief Justice John Roberts declared Tuesday.
Roberts made the statement during an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., lightly acknowledging the ongoing attacks on Justice Clarence Thomas over ethics claims. Roberts nevertheless told the audience at the American Law Institute (ALI) that neither Congress nor the executive branch should interfere in the court’s affairs.
“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. “We are continuing to look at things we can do to give practical effect to that commitment.”
“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.
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Roberts appeared at ALI’s annual dinner to receive the group’s Friendly Medal, presented by Justice Elena Kagan. Elsewhere in his speech, Roberts lamented recent threats to the safety of the court’s members, highlighting the protests outside the homes of conservative justices.
Roberts added that the hardest decision he has had to make as chief justice was to erect barricades around the Supreme Court when the court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.
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“I had no choice but to do it,” Roberts said.
“But inside the court there is cause for optimism,” he added. “I am happy that I can continue to say that there has never been a voice raised in anger in our conference room. Our court consists of nine appointees of four presidents. We deal with some of the most controversial issues before the country, yet we maintain collegial relations with each other.”
Roberts’ speech came as Thomas is continuing to face attacks over gifts he received from a wealthy friend, billionaire Harlan Crow. A report from ProPublica found that Thomas had taken frequent trips with the GOP megadonor for years, and critics argue that accepting such gifts violated ethics standards.
Democrats in Congress were quick to jump on the report in an effort to discredit Thomas, arguably the court’s most staunch conservative. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called a hearing earlier in May to discuss Supreme Court ethics reform, much to the frustration of Republicans.
“This assault on Justice Thomas is well beyond ethics,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said at the time. “It’s about trying to delegitimize a conservative court that was appointed through the traditional process.”
Thomas himself addressed the accusations in April, saying Crow and his family have long been among his and his wife’s “dearest friends.”
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“Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends, and we have been friends for over twenty-five years,” the justice said in a public statement. “As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them. Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.”