John Roberts breaks silence amid Clarence Thomas scandal — but offers no new ethics rules

Roberts said Congress has no business interfering in Supreme Court ethics

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published May 24, 2023 2:43PM (EDT)

US Supreme Court by Chief Justice John G. Roberts (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images)
US Supreme Court by Chief Justice John G. Roberts (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Chief Justice John Roberts came to the defense of the Supreme Court amid ethical misconduct concerns and declining public approval in his first televised public appearance since the pandemic, ABC News reports.

Roberts addressed the growing concerns over the justices' handling of potential conflicts of interest in their personal lives for the first time during his speech at the American Law Institute gala, where he was awarded the Henry J. Friendly Medal for law contributions, in Washington, D.C on Tuesday.

"I want to assure people that I am committed to making certain that we as a Court adhere to the highest standards of conduct," he said.

"We are continuing to look at things we can do to give practical effect to that commitment, and I am confident there are ways to do that, that are consistent with our status as an independent branch of government under the constitutions, separation of powers," he added.

Roberts did not elaborate on what steps the Court could take to regain the public's confidence or when it may do so.

His remarks come after ProPublica revealed that Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose his exorbitant financial ties to GOP megadonor Harlan Crow. The billionaire reportedly funded lavish, international trips for the conservative justice for years, purchased real estate from Thomas and his family, and footed the tuition for Thomas' grandnephew. Thomas has denied any wrongdoing.

In the wake of the revelations, Democrats have renewed calls to establish an ethics code that the justices must follow to increase transparency, while some Republicans defended Thomas against the reports. 

All nine justices seem to oppose Democrats' suggestions, co-authoring an April statement that articulates their ethics and standard practices.

"The undersigned Justices today reaffirm and restate foundational ethics principles and practices to which they subscribe in carrying out their responsibilities as Members of the Supreme Court of the United States," they said in the memo titled "Statement on Ethics Principles and Practices."

"This statement aims to provide new clarity to the bar and to the public on how the Justices address certain recurring issues, and also seeks to dispel some common misconceptions," they continued. "The justices, like other federal judges, consult a wide variety of authorities to address specific ethical issues."

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Amid its controversy, Americans' approval of the Court has taken a hit since the start of the year, according to a new Marquette Law School poll released Wednesday.

Though the public's views of the high court have "oscillated" since 2020, CNN reports, the Marquette poll, conducted in the first half of this month, found that 41% of U.S. adults approved of the Court, while 59% did not.

These results mirror those of a similar poll Marquette conducted in July 2022, days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, but demonstrate a decline from more recent iterations of the survey. In January, it found that 47 percent of Americans approved of the court, while 53 percent did not.

Democrats and Republicans were divided in their opinions of the Supreme Court with Democrats clocking in a 24% approval rating and Republicans bearing a 60% approval rating.

The survey also found that among people who pay attention to politics "most of the time," 60% of them had "heard a lot" about Thomas' financial disclosures. Among those who pay attention to politics "less often," 18% said they had heard a lot about Thomas' annual reports.

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Tatyana Tandanpolie is a staff writer at Salon. Born and raised in central Ohio, she moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue degrees in Journalism and Africana Studies at New York University. She is currently based in her home state and has previously written for local Columbus publications, including Columbus Monthly, CityScene Magazine and The Columbus Dispatch.

MORE FROM Tatyana Tandanpolie

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Aggregate Clarence Thomas Harlan Crow John Roberts Politics Supreme Court