Roberts says Supreme Court can do more on ethics, but offers no details

WASHINGTON (AP) — Chief Justice John Roberts said Tuesday the Supreme Court could do more to “adhere to the highest standards” of ethical conduct, an acknowledgment that recent reports of judges’ ethical missteps are having an effect. on the public’s perception of the court.

Speaking at a legal dinner where he was honored with an award, Roberts did not provide any details but said the judges are “continuing to look at the things we can do to give practical effect to this commitment”.

He said he was “confident that there are ways to do this, consistent with our status as an independent branch of government and the separation of powers provided for in the Constitution”.

The court resisted adopting its own code of ethics, and Roberts raised questions about whether Congress could impose a code of conduct on the court.

All nine justices recently signed an ethics statement that Roberts provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee. His remarks on Tuesday suggest he knows that statement is not enough to calm critics.

The chief justice’s remarks follow a series of stories, mostly from investigative news site ProPublica, that detail lavish trips and other gifts given to Justice Clarence Thomas by Republican megadonor Harlan Crow.

Democrats have used the revelations to push for tougher ethics rules for the Supreme Court, and the Democratic-controlled Senate has held two hearings on ethics issues in recent weeks. Republicans defended Thomas.

Roberts, who has run the court since 2005, also said the toughest decision he made as chief justice was to keep protesters away from the court last year, following the leak of the project of notice quashing Roe v. Wade.

“The hardest decision I’ve had to make in 18 years was whether or not to erect fences and barricades around the Supreme Court. I had no choice but to go ahead and do it,” he said at the American Law Institute dinner in Washington.

The fence was removed before the start of the court’s new term in October.

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