Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Can Chief Justice Roberts restore the public’s trust in the Supreme Court?

Advocates continue to demand that the U.S. Supreme Court adopt a code of ethics; however, Chief Justice John Roberts has refused to do so. 

Donald Sherman, senior vice president for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, told theGrio the Supreme Court has yet to adopt a moral code due to “arrogance.”

“They are constitutionally accountable to no one…except for being impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors, which is a pretty high standard, and they have life tenure,” explained Sherman. He added, “They do what they want.”

Oct 7, 2022; Washington, DC, USA; Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court. Seated from left: Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Jr., Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Associate Justice Elena Kagan

Standing behind from left: Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, Associate Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Mandatory Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY

The high court, said Sherman, believes “they don’t have to be accountable to the public or to Congress…despite being embarrassed by Clarence Thomas” and other scandals.

Sarah Turberville, director of the Constitution Project at Project on Government Oversight (POGO), told theGrio, “I think there is a belief that the justices think they are incorruptible.” 

“Because of the unique structure of the court where these people have their jobs for life…it’s given way to a sense of impunity,” she opined about the justices’ lifetime appointments.

In recent months, the Supreme Court came under fire from advocates, lawmakers in Congress, and the public for being the only court not to adhere to a code of ethics, as theGrio previously reported.

Just last week, Democratic congressional members held a press conference to reintroduce a statute that would add four justices to the bench in an effort to salvage the court’s reputation. 

U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., attended the press conference and called the court a “cesspool of corruption.” 

Her remarks followed revelations that three justices, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Roberts, were connected to questionable financial activity, as theGrio previously reported.

“Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose lavish trips and gifts from a billionaire benefactor,” said Bush, adding, “Justice Neil Gorsuch sold his property to the head of a major law firm nine days after being confirmed; [and] Chief Justice John Roberts’ wife raked in millions of dollars by placing lawyers in elite law firms with business before the court.” 

Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, right, and wife Virginia “Ginni” Thomas arrive for a State Dinner with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, on Sept. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Earlier this week, Roberts spoke at a dinner hosted by the American Law Institute, where he was the recipient of an award. While delivering remarks, the chief justice assured the crowd that he and his fellow justices would take action to restore trust in the court, according to the Associated Press.

The justices “are continuing to look at the things we can do to give practical effect to that commitment,” he said.

Roberts added that he is “confident there are ways to do that consistent with our status as an independent branch of government and the Constitution’s separation of powers.” 

This statement comes after the chief justice and eight other justices signed a statement of ethics that he presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee, tasked with investigating several scandals connected to the court.

“What seems obvious to nearly everyone except maybe the chief and his eight colleagues on the court is that self-policing is clearly not working,” Turberville told theGrio.

She said that Roberts has been stating for over a decade that the court can address the code of ethics on its own; however, “the problems have gotten worse” and, as a result, “the public’s view of the court and faith in the court has plummeted.”

Supreme Court entrance marble sign plaque in United States legal system. A courthouse room marker inside of Wisconsin state capitol building, Midwest USA. Gilded capital letters carved in stone and traditional architectural interior formality inspire concepts for justice, fairness, and government law. Horizontal format with copy space and no people.

Sherman told theGrio, “We’re past the point that a statement at a fancy dinner where he’s given an award is sufficient to address the damage that has already been done” to Supreme Court’s reputation.

He recommended that if the chief justice wants to be a leader, he must to do more. 

Sherman called for “a serious binding code of conduct that addresses conflicts, addresses recusals and addresses independent investigations of misconduct and that is released to the public for public comment and input.”

Turberville said that POGO and Lawyers Defending American Democracy drafted a code of conduct that Roberts can follow to ensure that the nation’s highest court is held to a standard of fairness and void of corruption. 

In addition to the Supreme Court implementing a code of ethics, she believes Congress will need to “impose ethical constraints on the court in order to protect the independence of the institution.”

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