Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Invited To Testify About Ethics Before Senate

Republicans are urging Roberts not to accept the Democrats' invitation, arguing that the Supreme Court is able to police itself.
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WASHINGTON ― Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) invited Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss ethics reform in the judiciary after explosive reports that Justice Clarence Thomas accepted undisclosed gifts and lavish trips from a GOP megadonor.

“The status quo is no longer tenable,” Durbin, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, wrote in a letter addressed to Roberts on Thursday. “The time has come for a new public conversation on ways to restore confidence in the Court’s ethical standards.”

Durbin requested that Roberts or another justice testify on May 2, noting that it is not unprecedented for sitting justices to testify before Congress. One such hearing on ethics took place in 2011.

Thomas has come under fire for not reporting over two decades of luxury travel that he and his wife, Ginni Thomas, took with Texas real estate mogul Harlan Crow, including trips on the donor’s yacht and private jet.

Thomas also failed to disclose a 2014 real estate deal to sell properties in Georgia to the billionaire, whom he calls a friend. Thomas’ mother still lives on one of the properties and doesn’t pay rent. In an implicit acknowledgment of the failure, the justice reportedly is planning on amending his disclosure forms to reflect the deal.

Democrats have called for the passage of legislation in response to the Thomas revelations that would require Supreme Court justices to adhere to the same code of conduct that binds all other federal judges, including stricter rules on gifts and travel.

But Republicans dismissed the need for such legislation, as well as Durbin’s request on Thursday. They urged Roberts to ignore the invitation.

“I would not recommend the chief justice accept his invitation because it would be a circus,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters on Capitol Hill.

If Roberts declines the invitation, Democrats could try to force the justice to appear before the committee. However, such a move would require a majority vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. With Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) absent from the Senate for an undetermined period of time while she recovers from a bout of the shingles, Democrats would likely lose that vote.

“There’s been no discussion of subpoenas,” Durbin told reporters on Thursday, noting the committee is limited by Feinstein’s absence.

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