Editor's Pick

Roberts Steps Lightly Around Supreme Court’s Ethics Struggles in Yearly Report

In January of 2021, Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. released his yearly report, which largely served to sidestep the many ethics controversies swirling around the court in recent months. Coming after an election season and the ensuing resolution of unsettled constitutional questions, these controversies included, among others, the court’s refusal to hear election-related cases and its blatant favoritism of conservative concerns over liberal ones. In his report, Roberts stated up front that he would not be addressing the controversies pertaining to the court’s integrity and ethics. Rather, he instead focused on the court’s efficiency in completing cases and the need for the continued respect for its independence. He noted that the court had managed in 2020 to decide cases faster than in 2019 and that those decisions were made with consistent enthusiasm in the face of outside pressures. “We are all acutely aware of the tensions that exist within our society,” Roberts wrote in his report. “The Court does not respond to such pressures.” He later equated the court with a family, and said that “we should take comfort in the knowledge that families can be united and energized by a shared commitment to an ideal, even while making different choices about their paths for achieving it.” The implication was clear that the court would not be jumping to address the controversies surrounding it. The report was nonetheless met with criticism, given the fact that the Supreme Court itself is not immune from the role of ethics in public life. At the same time, Roberts made an effort to address some more compact issues, such as the need for more non-partisan judges and the court’s dedication to public engagement through its ruling on cases like the 2020 Census. He noted that, since the court currently has the resources to ensure more balanced decision-making, it should strive to do so. In the end, Roberts’s report did successfully sidestep the many ethical controversies that had been swirling around the court. Whether this was a wisdom or a naivety on the Chief Justice’s part, it’s clear that the court will have to address the issue sooner rather than later if the public can continue to have faith in its integrity.

You may also like