Roberts sidesteps Supreme Court’s ethics controversies in yearly report
Chief Justice John Roberts released his 2020 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary on Thursday, presenting an overview of a tumultuous year overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic and social unrest. However, the report largely skirted around the sudden spotlight of the Supreme Court’s simmering ethics controversies.
First, the report states that the “judicial branch has sought to maintain proceedings remotely” and that other efforts “have been undertaken to protect the public” during the Covid-19 pandemic. Along with that, Roberts also writes of an increased focus on diversity and access to justice, mentioning the Supreme Court’s new rules prohibiting job applicants from lacking basic qualifications for judicial positions.
However, the Chief Justice avoids directly addressing questions raised by an ethically dubious legal practice established by justice Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh was accused of sometimes accepting cases that were litigated by lawyers with whom he had a prior personal or professional relationship—a violation of the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges. He also didn’t mention the recent Supreme Court ruling that resulted in the reinstatement of Alabama’s abortion ban, which galvanized dissenters and added to the ongoing conversation about the court’s ethical dilemmas.
The decision to overlook these issues may be due to the fact that Roberts is a “stickler for maintaining a sense of balance,” according to a source familiar with his work. “He doesn’t want to call further attention to the controversies,” the source said.
Despite Roberts’ omission, the annual report serves as a record of the judiciary’s accomplishments over the last year amid the unique upheavals it has faced. In a nationwide survey, Roberts noted that the majority of respondents claimed that their court experiences had been satisfactory.
Though Roberts’ report fails to tackle the difficult issues, it is a timely and needed reminder of the impressive efforts to keep the judiciary functioning under these difficult circumstances.