The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee made a personal plea to Chief Justice John Roberts to create a Supreme Court code of ethics at a closed-door conference Tuesday.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin was an invited guest to the meeting of the Judicial Conference – the policy arm of the US Courts – and was seated next to Roberts, according to a source familiar.
Durbin addressed the audience for five minutes, according to the source, noting that while he had attended previous meetings of the Judicial Conference, this year felt different. He said he was saddened that the highest court in the land was mired in an ethical crisis that he felt the justices had brought upon themselves by failing to create an enforceable ethics code that applies directly to the justices.
Durbin’s comments come as he is pushing for legislation that would require the justices to adopt such a code. On more than one occasion he has warned that if the court doesn’t act, Congress will. The effort, however, faces opposition from Republicans .
Durbin had invited Roberts to testify at a hearing devoted to Supreme Court ethics in the spring, but Roberts declined.
“Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by the Chief Justice of the United States is exceedingly rare as one might expect in light of separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence,” Roberts told Durbin in a letter at the time.
The meeting occurred after an array of news stories alleging ethical transgressions on the part of some justices. ProPublica, the Associated Press and other outlets have reported on issues concerning Supreme Court justices’ undisclosed luxury travel on private jets, lavish vacations and the use of taxpayer funded staff to perform tasks related to book ventures.
Meanwhile, approval ratings of the court remain at an all-time low – a fact that has not been lost on the justices.
Just last week, Justice Brett Kavanaugh told an audience in Ohio that the court is working on “concrete measures” to address such concerns. He said he was hopeful movement would occur soon, but gave no details.