Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamie Raskin seeking answers from Chief Justice John Roberts over Supreme Court ethics

Democratic Reps. Jamie Raskin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called into question whether Chief Justice John Roberts has taken any action to address the storm cloud of scandals surrounding the Supreme Court, in a new letter obtained first by CNN.

The Democratic duo asked Roberts to answer five written questions about what steps he has taken in his role as chief justice and presiding officer of the Judicial Conference to investigate the mounting ethics scandals involving Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. The pair also pressed Roberts to outline the standards for recusal decisions, and whether those have been followed, given the apparent conflicts of interest Thomas and Alito have to the two cases involving former President Donald Trump currently in front of the Supreme Court.

The letter is the latest example of the tension between the high court, where conservatives hold a 6-3 majority, and Democrats on Capitol Hill, who have been pushing for more than a year for tighter ethics rules. A series of ethics scandals involving Thomas and, more recently, Alito have left public approval of the court at historic lows.

The letter from Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez, who both serve on the GOP-led House Oversight Committee, comes on the heels of Roberts declining a May request from Democratic senators to meet on this issue.

“Since you have refused to meet with Congress, we question what steps you are actually taking as either the Chief Justice or the presiding officer of the Judicial Conference to investigate these glaring episodes of political bias and lack of disclosure,” the pair wrote to Roberts.

In their letter, Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez criticize Roberts for not being out front on the issue of Thomas’s failure to disclose lavish trips on his financial disclosure forms. Thomas is under intense scrutiny for gifts he received from Harlan Crow, a GOP megadonor who treated Thomas and his wife to extravagant vacations, private plane trips, paid for the tuition of a Thomas family member and entered into an unusual real estate transaction related to the home of Thomas’ mother.

“Investigative journalists and Senate investigators — not the Judicial Conference — have been the ones to break the silence and reveal Justices Thomas’s failure to comply with basic disclosure requirements,” the lawmakers wrote.

When declining the invitation to meet with Senate Democrats, Roberts argued, “Separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence counsel against such appearances.”

Under Roberts’ leadership, the Supreme Court announced in 2023 a new code of conduct in an attempt to bolster the public’s confidence in the court after months of news stories alleging that some of the justices have been skirting ethics regulations. But the justices failed to explain how the code would work and who would enforce it, and acknowledged they had more work to do, including on financial disclosures.

Ocasio-Cortez and Raskin said in their letter they are seeking a response from Roberts by July 5.

Alito told lawmakers in a letter last month that he will not recuse from cases involving the 2020 presidential election or the January 6, 2021, US Capitol riot despite concerns over two controversial flags that have flown at his residences in Virginia and New Jersey that suggest sympathy with people who protested President Joe Biden’s election win over Trump in 2020. Thomas has said he will not recuse himself from a high-stakes case over whether Trump has presidential immunity from criminal prosecution despite past efforts by his wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, to reverse the 2020 presidential election in Trump’s favor and her attendance at the rally Trump held on January 6, 2021, shortly before the US Capitol attack.

The Supreme Court is weighing major cases tied to the 2020 election and the attack on the US Capitol. In one, the justices are weighing Trump’s claim of absolute immunity from special counsel Jack Smith’s election subversion charges. In another, a January 6 rioter is challenging an obstruction charge filed against him by prosecutors, arguing that Congress intended that law to apply to people destroying evidence, not storming a government building.

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