Possible Ethics Fight Has Chief Justice Worried

Chief Justice John Roberts has long prided himself on staying out of politics, but the Supreme Courts recent ethics controversies have put his neutrality to the test.

After Roberts refused to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Democrats accused the court of being unable to police itself, while Republicans slammed them for attempting to smear Justice Clarence Thomas and the courts other conservatives.

The push for ethics legislation remains shaky in a divided Congress, but the debacle has left Roberts, 68, struggling to maintain his impartial image while public confidence in the court continues to plummet.

Im more troubled by the suggestion that testifying to this Committee would somehow infringe on the separation of powers or threaten judicial independence, said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (DIll.).

In fact, answering legitimate questions from the peoples elected representatives is one of the checks and balances that helps preserve the separation of powers.

Throughout his tenure as chief justice, Roberts has worked to keep the courts image from being tarnished by partisan politics. Even on mundane topics like the courts budget, Roberts has left it to his colleagues to testify.

But the 2010 State of the Union Address saw Roberts breaking his silence. After thenPresident Obama denounced the Supreme Courts Citizens United v. FEC ruling on campaign finance with the justices sitting feet away, Roberts voiced his displeasure to law students weeks later.

The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up literally surrounding the Supreme Court cheering and hollering while the court, according to the requirements of protocol, has to sit there expressionless I think is very troubling, Roberts said.

The chief justice was again in the Capitol in 2020, presiding over the impeachment trial of thenPresident Trump. Although he emerged unscathed and earned bipartisan praise, Roberts refused to preside over Trumps second impeachment trial and again declined to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

Nevertheless, Democrats still lambasted Roberts and the high court.What Chief Justice Roberts has done in refusing to come before this committee is judicial malpractice. It is a disservice to the courts, said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (DConn.).

Meanwhile, Republicans argued that the effort was an attempt to obstruct the conservativemajority court.

Were going to push back as hard as we can and tell the American people the truth about whats going on. This is not about making the court better. This is about destroying a conservative court. It will not work, said Sen. Lindsey Graham (RS.C.).

Sen. John Kennedy (RLa.) added,Todays hearing is an excuse to sling more mud at an institution.

As the prospect of ethics legislation fades in a GOPcontrolled House, Roberts has remained steadfast in his insular approach. But that hasnt stopped public confidence in the court from hitting an alltime low. According to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, only 37 percent of Americans have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the court, the lowest measure recorded since the pollster began asking the question in 2018.


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