As head of the Judicial Conference and primary spokesperson for the judicial branch, the Chief Justice wields enormous power over the development and implementation of ethical mandates. With three of the country’s leading experts in judicial ethics arguing that Judge John G. Roberts, Jr. should not have participated in Hamdan v. United States, an important war-on-terror case, while interviewing for a seat on the Supreme Court, ethical issues were already sure to be a topic at his confirmation hearings. With his nomination to be the Chief Justice of the United States, Roberts’ views on judicial ethics become far more important.
As explained in the attached memorandum entitled “The Special Powers of the Chief Justice: Judicial Ethics,” Chief Justice Rehnquist fiercely defended the ability of judges to make essentially unreviewable decisions about the propriety of their own judicial conduct. Rehnquist opposed rules limiting the discretion of judges in taking corporate funded retreats, accepting honoraria, and he set a high bar regarding when judicial disqualification was necessary. Rehnquist’s position on each of these issues was controversial and led to confrontations with members of Congress from both political parties.
The Chief Justice is more than one vote on the Supreme Court. As CEO of the judicial branch he wields tremendous influence over issues such as judicial ethics, which are of significant concern to Congress. Senators have good reason, and great responsibility, to press Roberts for his views on critical ethical issues.
To see this memorandum click here.