May 24, 2024

Durbin, Whitehouse Request Meeting with Chief Justice Roberts, Urge Roberts to Ensure Justice Alito Recuses Himself in 2020 Election Cases

Senators also renew call for vote on Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act and for Court to implement an enforceable code of ethics

Washington, DC – Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Federal Courts, today announced that they sent a letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts imploring the Chief Justice to take appropriate steps to ensure Justice Samuel Alito recuses himself from cases concerning the 2020 election and the January 6th insurrection. 

The senators’ letter comes on the heels of two reports from the New York Times that Justice Alito flew at two separate residences MAGA battle flags that were carried by insurrectionists at the Capitol on January 6th.

“By displaying the upside-down and ‘Appeal to Heaven’ flags outside his homes, Justice Alito actively engaged in political activity, failed to avoid the appearance of impropriety, and failed to act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary.  He also created reasonable doubt about his impartiality and his ability to fairly discharge his duties in cases related to the 2020 presidential election and January 6th attack on the Capitol.  His recusal in these matters is both necessary and required,” wrote Whitehouse and Durbin.

The senators’ letter repeated their call for the Chief Justice to implement an enforceable code of conduct at the Court, and requested a meeting with the Chief Justice to discuss the Supreme Court’s worsening ethics crisis.

“For centuries, Supreme Court justices conducted themselves in such a way that the absence of proper procedures consistent with these principles was a moot failing.  That is no longer true.  The Court’s Code of Conduct has failed to redress or prevent any of these ethics violations, largely because it contains no enforcement mechanism.  Both the Court and the Judicial Conference appear to have failed to even investigate allegations of ethics violations by Supreme Court justices, much less provide any findings or sanctions,” added the senators.

“We therefore call for Justice Alito to recuse himself from certain proceedings as outlined above, renew our call for the Supreme Court to adopt an enforceable code of conduct for Supreme Court justices, and request a meeting with you as soon as possible.  Until the Court and the Judicial Conference take meaningful action to address this ongoing ethical crisis, we will continue our efforts to enact legislation to resolve this crisis,” concluded the senators.

The senators’ letter is the latest in a longstanding oversight effort by Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats to ensure transparency and accountability at the Supreme Court and in the federal judiciary.  Durbin and Whitehouse have called for the passage of the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act, legislation that the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced last July.  The bill would require Supreme Court justices to adopt a binding code of conduct, create a mechanism to investigate alleged violations of the code of conduct and other laws, improve disclosure and transparency when a justice has a connection to a party or amicus before the Court, end the practice of justices ruling on their own conflicts of interests, and require justices to explain their recusal decisions to the public. 

Congress has an appropriate and well-established role in oversight of the judiciary and updating ethics laws that apply to federal officials, including justices and judges.  Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act and judicial recusal law, which expressly apply to the justices.  Congress also created through statute the Judicial Conference, which administers financial disclosure laws for the entire judiciary.

The senators’ letter to the Chief Justice can be found here.

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