Senate Democrats Urge Chief Justice Roberts to Release Ethics Rules

Like Other Government Institutions, Court Should Be Open and Transparent

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Al Franken (D-MN) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) wrote to the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, John Roberts, yesterday, urging him to take steps to improve the transparency of the Court by publicly releasing all of its ethics rules and affirming that the Justices follow the same ethics code which applies to all other federal judges.


“We write today to request greater transparency about the internal resolutions the Court has adopted to address ethical issues,” the Senators wrote. “Because we have a high regard for the Supreme Court and its Members, we emphasize that we do not intend to question or impugn the ethics of any individual Justice or the Court itself by making these requests.  We have worked for many years to increase openness and transparency in government, and hope to increase public trust and confidence in all of our institutions, including the Supreme Court.  We firmly believe that full disclosure of the Court’s rules and its processes can only lead to greater confidence in the Court, and we look forward to working with you and the other members of the Court to achieve this goal.”


Last fall, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the role of judges under the Constitution. Justices Scalia and Breyer testified about the financial and ethics restrictions followed by the Justices. In his Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, Chief Justice Roberts reported that in 1991, the Justices agreed to follow the same rules on gifts and outside income, honoraria, and employment which apply to other federal judges.  Chief Justice Roberts also noted that the Justices use the Code of Conduct for United States Judges as guidance in ethics issues in the same way that other federal judges do.    


Today’s letter requests that the Court release all ethics rules which the Justices have adopted, including the 1991 resolution.  It further requests that the Court adopt a formal resolution confirming that the Justices follow the Code of Conduct since they already appear to follow the Code in practice.


A copy of the letter is attached.