Updated May 30, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Roberts declines to meet with Dems over ethics after Alito flags controversy

Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts attends the State of the Union address on February 7, 2023 in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. The

Chief Justice John Roberts attends the State of the Union address on February 7, 2023. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin-Pool/Getty Images

Chief Justice John Roberts rejected a meeting request from Democratic senators on Thursday to discuss ethics at the Supreme Court amid controversy over flags flown outside Justice Samuel Alito's residences.

The big picture: Alito on Wednesday rejected a request from Democratic lawmakers to recuse himself from Jan. 6-related cases.

  • Alito has come under scrutiny following revelations that two flags with connections to Jan. 6 had been flown outside his properties.

Driving the news: Roberts cited the "separation of powers" and the "importance of preserving judicial independence" as his reasons for declining the meeting.

  • Roberts said that meetings between the Chief Justice and legislators are rare, and have occurred with members of both political parties present. As the meeting was requested solely by Democrats, "participating in such a meeting would be inadvisable," he said.
  • Roberts sent the letter to Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Federal Courts.

What they're saying: "The Chief Justice is wrong to say that simply meeting with members of Congress to discuss the Supreme Court's ethics crisis threatens the separation of powers or judicial independence," a spokesperson for Durbin said in a statement.

  • "Due to the Chief Justice's intransigence, Chair Durbin will continue his efforts to pass legislation establishing an enforceable code of conduct for all nine Supreme Court justices—regardless of which President appointed them."

State of play: Durbin and Whitehouse requested the meeting with Roberts, also asking him to ensure that Alito recuses himself from Jan. 6-related cases before the Supreme Court.

  • The senators asked Roberts to "implement an enforceable code of conduct at the Court" and are seeking "to discuss the Supreme Court's worsening ethics crisis."

Zoom in: An upside-down American flag, a symbol of the "Stop the Steal" movement, was hung outside the Alito home days after the Jan. 6 attack, the New York Times reported earlier this month.

Go deeper: Alito rejects Jan. 6 recusal request over flag controversy

Axios' Stephen Neukam contributed reporting.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a statement from a spokesperson for Sen. Durbin.

Go deeper