Chief Justice John Roberts said that the Supreme Court might “adhere to the highest standards” of ethical behavior, acknowledging that recent media coverage of the justices’ ethical gaffes is impacting the public’s opinion of the court.
Roberts made no particular comments during his speech at a law dinner on Tuesday, but he did state that the justices “are continuing to look at the things we can do to give practical effect to that commitment.”
Roberts was presented with an award at the event.
He asserted that he is “confident there are ways to do that consistent with our status as an independent branch of the government and the Constitution’s separation of powers.”
Roberts has questioned whether Congress could order the court to abide by an ethics code when it has resisted creating its own.
Roberts recently gave the Senate Judiciary Committee a statement of ethics that all nine justices had signed.
His comments on Tuesday gave the impression that he is aware that the statement will not satisfy critics.
The top justice’s comments come in the wake of many articles, primarily published by the investigative news website ProPublica, that exposed extravagant flights and other gifts that Republican megadonor Harlan Crow gave to Justice Clarence Thomas.
Democrats have utilized the revelations to demand stricter ethical guidelines for the Supreme Court, and the Democratic-controlled Senate recently held two hearings on the subject.
Republicans have defended Thomas.
Roberts, who has presided over the court since 2005, added that the most challenging choice he has had to make in that capacity was to forbid demonstrators from entering the building last year after a draft judgment overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked.
The choice of whether to put fences and barricades surrounding the Supreme Court was the most difficult I had to make in 18 years.
At a dinner for the American Law Institute in Washington, he remarked, “I had no choice but to go ahead and do it.
Before the new term of the court began in October, the fencing was taken down.