May 30, 2024

Whitehouse Responds to Chief Justice’s Refusal to Meet with Senate Judiciary Committee Members in Capacity as Head of the Judicial Conference

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Federal Courts, today responded to Chief Justice John Roberts’ letter addressed to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Whitehouse, in which the Chief Justice of the United States refused a meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss judicial ethics in his capacity as the head of the Judicial Conference.  The Judicial Conference was created by Congress to set policies and ethics requirements for the federal judiciary and administer ethics laws passed by Congress.  The Chief Justice of the United States serves as its presiding officer.

“It is frustrating that the Chief Justice of the United States refused to address the aspect of our letter addressed to him as chair of the Judicial Conference.  Close reading of text is an attribute of a good judge.  Simply ignoring text is often a sign that there’s not a good answer,” said Whitehouse.  “In this case, there’s not a good answer: the Judicial Conference is a body created by Congress and funded by Congress, enforcing laws passed by Congress.  It is an administrative body, not an adjudicative body.  Even if there were a proper separation of powers argument here, which I don’t believe, it would not extend to the Conference.  All this means is that the work must continue until we have a Supreme Court that applies to itself basic tenets of rule of law: honest fact-finding and neutral decision-making.  That really should not be hard.  It’s a tell that they’ve made it so hard.”

Two reports from The New York Times indicate that MAGA battle flags that were carried by insurrectionists at the Capitol on January 6th were flown at two of Justice Alito’s residences.  In a letter sent last week to Chief Justice Roberts, Durbin and Whitehouse called on 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.  The letter also requested that the Chief Justice ensure Justice Alito recuses from cases related to the January 6th insurrection.  Yesterday, Justice Alito sent a response to Durbin and Whitehouse refusing to recuse from the cases.

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 created the Judicial Conference through statute.

Whitehouse’s Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act was advanced by the Senate Judiciary Committee 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. 

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