Chief Justice Roberts Says No Thanks to Dick Durbin, Won't Testify at Supreme Court Ethics Hearing

(Win McNamee/Pool via AP)

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) invited Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to testify at a May 2 hearing on court ethics. Roberts delivered his answer Tuesday: thanks, but no thanks.


Roberts wrote a letter to Durbin which was released by a court spokesperson:

I must respectfully decline your invitation.

Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by the Chief Justice of the United States is exceedingly rare as one might expect in light of separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence.


Roberts appeared to rub it in a little, attaching a Statement of Ethics Principles and Practices with the letter and noting, “All of the current Members of the Supreme Court subscribe.”

Durbin had requested that the chief justice testify after reports revealed that Justice Clarence Thomas had gone on vacations with his longtime friend and GOP donor Harlan Crow, and had also failed to report several 2014 real estate transactions on his financial disclosures. He lost money on the deals so thought he didn’t have to report them; he now is reported to be working on filing updates. Meanwhile, he said in a statement that he didn’t report the vacations because the ethics guidelines in effect at the time did not require him to.

Democrats are crying foul:

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia have led about two dozen Democratic members of Congress in asking Chief Justice John Roberts to launch an investigation, and they are calling on the Judicial Conference – a policymaking body for the federal courts – to refer Thomas to the US attorney general for potential violations of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978.

“There is at least reasonable cause to believe that Justice Thomas intentionally disregarded the disclosure requirement to report the sale of his interest in the Savannah properties in an attempt to hide the extent of his financial relationship with Crow,” Whitehouse and Johnson said in a joint statement.


Durbin responded to those reports by sending a letter to Roberts earlier this month urging him to “immediately open” an investigation and “take all needed action to prevent further misconduct.” He ominously warned, “If the court does not resolve this issue on its own, the committee will consider legislation to resolve it.”

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee last week accused Democrats of trying to embarrass Thomas and urged Roberts to skip the hearing. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, “I would not recommend that the chief accept his invitation because it will be a circus.”

Roberts made the right call here, and not just based on the separation of powers. The hearing would be a complete partisan spectacle if he showed up. Democrats would have had a field day bashing him and the rest of the conservative justices, mostly because they’re still furious about Roe v Wade being overturned.

The allegations against Clarence Thomas appear to be a nothingburger anyway, as RedState‘s Sister Toldjah wrote, adding:

Democrats have been trying to shut Clarence Thomas up since the moment he was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1991, with then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden (D-Del.) leading the way in perpetuating the ugly, baseless smear campaigns against him.

Here we are in the spring of 2024, and nothing has changed…


The attempts by Durbin and others are just harassment; they’re hoping to score political points and bully the court to the left in future decisions. Chief Justice Roberts was right to say, thanks—but no thanks.


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