In recent news, Chief Justice John Roberts has successfully sidestepped many of the Supreme Court’s ethics controversies in his 2019 year-end report. While the report does not provide detailed answers, it does address some of the ethical concerns that have arisen in the past few years.
The first issue addressed by Chief Justice Roberts is the fact that the current sitting justices are limiting the publication of their opinions. The Supreme Court traditionally publishes opinions for the majority by the justices in order to provide transparency into their decisions. However, in recent years, more opinions have been rendered via private communications and conference calls. Chief Justice Roberts points out that this is an accepted practice, but notes that it should not be used to avoid providing the public with a clear rationale for the decisions made.
The second issue addressed by Chief Justice Roberts is the controversy surrounding recusal decisions amongst the nine sitting justices. Chief Justice Roberts writes that just because a justice has not recused himself from a case does not mean that the justice lacked an improper motive or interest. Rather, Chief Justice Roberts believes that it is important for the court to maintain a high standard of neutrality when deciding cases. Further, Chief Justice Roberts acknowledges that the recusal decisions are ultimately his to make, and “should be guided by principles that ensure that the integrity of the Court is maintained at all times.”
Finally, Chief Justice Roberts addresses the matter of Supreme Court justices meeting with lobbyists and accepting financial contributions from outside sources. The Chief Justice notes that these issues are “sensitive” and should be handled with “great care.” To that end, Roberts suggests that justices take extra caution to not be involved in activities that could compromise their impartiality on particular cases.
Overall, Chief Justice Roberts’s 2019 year-end report addressed several hot topics that have been surrounding the Supreme Court lately, and his thoughts on how to address them. Though the report does not provide all of the answers, it does serve as a reminder of the ethical standards that the Supreme Court should strive to uphold in order to ensure trust in the judicial branch.