Chief Justice John Roberts has declined to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee following a series of shock reports on fellow Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that have raised concerns about judicial ethics.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the committee’s chairman, told reporters on Tuesday that Roberts had declined to appear on May 2 for a hearing on ethics reform in the judiciary. Durbin invited Roberts or another justice to appear last week, saying the latest revelations on Thomas had “contributed to a crisis of public confidence” in the nation’s highest bench.
“I must respectfully decline your invitation,” Roberts wrote in a letter. “Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by the Chief Justice of the United States is exceedingly rare, as one might expect in light of the separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence.”
Durbin has previously said the panel will not try to subpoena Roberts, noting the request was voluntary. A similar hearing took place in 2011.
Democrats have called for hearings after ProPublica reported that Thomas had accepted luxury trips from a billionaire friend for more than two decades, including forays aboard a luxury yacht, flights on a private jet and stays at an exclusive resort. The website later published details of a real estate transaction between the magnate, Harlan Crow, and Thomas’ family. Crow purchased three properties in 2014 from the justice and his relatives, including Thomas’ ancestral home where his mother still lives rent-free.
Thomas did not list the trips or the real estate sale on his financial disclosure forms as is required by law. He said earlier this month he believed he wasn’t required to note the lavish trips on his documents.
“[I] was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the court, was not reportable,” the justice said at the time.
Complaints about Thomas’ behavior have been referred to a federal panel that oversees the nation’s financial disclosure laws. It’s unclear what action, if any, the body could take.