Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has just issued his annual year-end report on the federal judiciary — and in it, he’s making a desperate plea to judges across the nation to prioritize ethics in the year ahead.
According to NPR, Roberts cited a series of investigative reports from The Wall Street Journal that uncovered evidence of at least 131 federal judges ruling on cases involving companies that either they or their family members owned stock in.
In his nine-page memo, the chief justice indicated that no federal judge had personally benefitted from any of the cases, but acknowledged that it appeared those judges’ actions were “inconsistent” with federal ethics statutes.
Not an excuse
“According to the Wall Street Journal‘s own data, the 685 instances identified amount to a very small fraction — less than three-hundredths of one percent — of the 2.5 million civil cases filed in the district courts in the nine years included in the study. That’s a 99.97% compliance rate,” he wrote.
The chief justice explained that most of the examples were isolated incidents over the nine-year stretch and were most likely instances of “unintentional oversights.”
Nonetheless, Roberts stressed that “this context is not excuse,” and noted that he would make sure all judges — especially those who violated guidelines more seriously — undergo additional ethics training and oversight.
He also said the judiciary would pursue technological upgrades to help catch potential conflicts that might be missed by clerks or a judge.
SCOTUS approval lags
In its report, NPR noted that Roberts’ concerns about even giving the appearance of judicial ethical issues come as Americans are especially skeptical of the court system.
A Gallup poll taken in September found that approval of the Supreme Court had reached an all-time low of 40%, while disapproval spiked to a high of 53%, no doubt in large part due to the growing perception — egged on by the mainstream media and Democrats — that the courts were being politicized.
On the flip side, another Gallup poll taken in December found that out of 11 top federal leaders, Chief Justice Roberts drew the highest approval rating from the public, at 60%, and he was the only one of those leaders to draw bipartisan majority support.
The numbers suggest that while the public’s view of the Supreme Court as an institution may be diminished, Roberts still retains some credibility in the eyes of Americans.
If there’s anyone who can right the ship after it’s gone this far off course, it’s the current chief justice on the bench.