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Roberts says Supreme Court will address ethical issues

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said Tuesday night he was “confident” the Supreme Court will convince the public that the court “adheres to the highest standards of conduct.”

Accepting an award at the American Law Institute, Roberts did not directly comment on the controversies that have surrounded court members and their financial disclosures or the growing push from Congress for a specific code of conduct for the Supreme Court.

But he said unrest outside the court had not affected the nine judges: “Inside the court there is cause for optimism,” he said.

“I want to assure people that I am committed to ensuring that we as a court adhere to the highest standards of conduct. We continue to examine what we can do to fulfill this commitment. And I am convinced that there are ways to do so, consistent with our status as an independent branch of government and the separation of powers of the Constitution.

Roberts was accepting the organization’s Henry Friendly Medal, named after a famous judge for whom the Chief Justice was clerk.

He said Friendly was a pessimist and would abhor the tenor of today’s legal world – mentioning a judge who was ‘shouted and heckled’ at a law school and the continued protests outside judges’ homes , which Roberts says now require round-the-clock protection.

He said that thinking about the hardest decision he had to make in 18 years as chief justice, it was not about a case. ‘The hardest decision I had to make was to erect fences and barricades around the Supreme Court’ in preparation for protests against the court’s decision that struck down the constitutional right to abortion that the court had established almost 50 years earlier in Roe vs. Wade. The fences remained for months.

While Roberts and his colleagues said they voluntarily followed many guidelines for lower court judges, Senate Democrats criticized the court for not enacting a court-specific code of conduct. Roberts recently declined an invitation to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying it would not be appropriate for the leader of an independent branch of government to appear before the committee.

The committee itself appears to be torn about whether Congress can mandate a code of ethics for the court or compel it to enact one itself.

Roberts’ remarks seemed intended to impress on lawmakers that the judges were working on it, but neither wanted nor needed the intervention of the political branches.


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