A former colleague of Jane Roberts, the wife of Chief Justice John Roberts, filed a complaint with Congress and the Justice Department alleging that her work as a legal recruiter poses a conflict of interest at the Supreme Court.
The complaint, which was first obtained by The New York Times, accuses the chief justice of failing to acknowledge the full extent of his wife’s work in his ethical disclosures.
Jane Roberts, who quit her job as a law partner when her husband was confirmed as chief justice in 2005, made millions of dollars in commissions helping recruit for firms – some of which had business before the Supreme Court, according to a letter obtained by The New York Times.
Boston lawyer Kendal Price argued in the letter last month that the justices should be required to disclose more information about their spouses’ work.
“I do believe that litigants in U.S. courts, and especially the Supreme Court, deserve to know if their judges’ households are receiving six-figure payments from the law firms,” Price wrote.
Patricia McCabe, a spokeswoman for the Supreme Court, told The Times that all the justices were “attentive to ethical constraints” and complied with financial disclosure laws.
McCabe cited the code of conduct for federal judges, including an advisory opinion that says a judge “need not recuse merely because” his or her spouse had worked as a recruiter for a law firm with issues before the court.
A statement provided by Price’s attorney explained why he came forward years later.
“I made the disclosures at this time for two principal reasons. First, any potential influence on what cases are accepted by the Supreme Court is a serious matter that affects the justice system in the U.S., particularly if that influence is not publicly known,” Price said.
“Second, the national controversy and debate regarding the integrity of the Supreme Court demanded that I no longer keep silent about the information I possessed, regardless of the impact such disclosures might have upon me professionally and personally,” he added.
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As the Supreme Court faces another ethics scandal, several legal experts have raised concerns about the public’s trust being at an all-time low.
“Another day, another ethics concern about another life-tenured conservative justice on the most powerful court in the world, which has no binding ethics rules,” tweeted Doug Lindner, an Advocacy Director for Judiciary & Democracy for the League of Conservation Voters.
Justice Clarence Thomas ignored calls to resign or recuse himself after he came under scrutiny for his wife Ginni Thomas’ involvement in helping former President Donald Trump overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
“If Chief Justice Roberts really wanted to address Supreme Court ethics, he would have immediately worked to implement a Code of Conduct after Clarence Thomas failed to recuse from cases involving January 6th despite having a clear conflict of interest,” the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington tweeted in May 2022.
“Jane Roberts is just the latest Supreme Court spouse to raise questions about potential conflicts of interest and influence peddling before the nation’s highest court,” said Brett Edkins, the managing director of policy and political affairs for Stand Up America.
Edkins added that while Jane Roberts “did not join a seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government” like Ginni Thomas did, her actions still undermine Chief Justice Roberts’ impartiality when his wife’s clients argue before the court.
“It’s clear that the ultraconservative justices in particular cannot be trusted to hold themselves to the same ethical standard as other federal judges,” he said. “It’s time for Congress to step up and pass meaningful reforms to fix the Supreme Court, including a code of ethics that would require justices to recuse themselves from cases where they have an actual or apparent conflict of interest.”
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