Durbin Delivers Opening Statement During Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing On Judicial Ethics Processes At The Judicial Conference Of The U.S.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today delivered an opening statement at the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action, and Federal Rights hearing entitled, “Review of Federal Judicial Ethics Processes at the Judicial Conference of the United States.”  The hearing examined the roles the Judicial Conference and its Committee on Financial Disclosure have in reviewing allegations that members of the federal judiciary have failed to comply with the disclosure requirements of the Ethics in Government Act. 

The hearing featured testimony from Senior Judge Mark Wolf of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.  Judge Wolf was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1985 and served as a member of the Judicial Conference from 2010-2012.

Key Quotes: 

“I want to thank Judge Wolf for his willingness to testify about the role the Judicial Conference Committee on Financial Disclosure plays, or fails to play, when it comes to overseeing Supreme Court Justices’ compliance with the Ethics in Government Act.” 

“Senator Kennedy, my friend, has identified May 4, 2020, as the kick-off date for this so-called political exercise.  I would like to show to my colleague and put in the record a copy of the letter which I sent with Senator Leahy, Senator Whitehouse, and others, to Chief Justice John Roberts dated February 13, 2012… What were we asking or making inquiry on?  We were asking about information on the code of conduct and the ethical behavior of the Supreme Court Justices… So to say this all started on May 4, 2020, is just plain wrong.” 

“For more than a decade, I have been calling for Supreme Court Justices to be held at a minimum to the same ethical standards as every other federal judge… As I mentioned, I started that in February 2012… I again urged Chief Justice Roberts to act after the recent ProPublica revelations about luxury vacations and travel given to a Supreme Court Justice by billionaire Harlan Crow.”

“I invited the Chief Justice on behalf of Democrats on the Committee to testify.  He declined.  I’m sorry that he did.  I then called on him to rescue the reputation of the Court by simply taking action to respond to this well documented outrage.  For anyone, including my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, to believe that this is normal, acceptable conduct for an elected official to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts, vacations, [or] to have your mother’s home purchased by an individual, the list just goes on.  The American people don’t understand this.”

“What this Court has to rely on is the confidence of the American people and the integrity of Justices when they hand down decisions... If there is any question about the integrity and character of these Justices, it really undermines the institution of the Court.  That’s why I appealed directly to the Chief Justice. This is the Roberts Court.  And what he chooses to do by way of ethics is going to be remembered for generations. I hope he will step up and say that’s the end of the special treatment for Supreme Court Justices. They will be held to the same ethical standard of every other federal judge.  That’s not too much to ask.” 

Video of Durbin’s opening statement is available here. 

Audio of Durbin’s opening statement is available here. 

Footage of Durbin’s opening statement is available here for TV Stations.

Earlier this month, the Judiciary Committee held a full committee hearing entitled, “Supreme Court Ethics Reform.”  The hearing emphasized the clear need for reform and examined common sense proposals to hold Justices to – at minimum – the same ethical standards as every other federal judge or high-ranking official in the federal government.  Durbin’s opening statement from the hearing is available here and his questions for the witnesses are available here. 

Durbin invited Chief Justice John Roberts, or another Justice whom the Chief Justice designated, to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the May 2nd hearing.  The Chief Justice declined to appear.  In his letter declining Durbin’s invitation, the Chief Justice attached a “Statement on Ethics Principles and Practices” that raised more questions than it answered.

On April 10, Durbin and his Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic colleagues sent a letter to the Chief Justice urging him to take swift action to address reported conduct by Justices that is inconsistent with the ethical standards the American people expect of public servants.  Durbin received a response letter from the Secretary of the Judicial Conference of the United States and it stated that the Senators’ April 10 letter was referred to the Judicial Conference and forwarded to the Judicial Conference Committee on Financial Disclosure. 

Durbin has been calling on the Supreme Court to adopt an enforceable code of conduct for more than a decade.  He first sent a letter to the Chief Justice on this issue 11 years ago.