Roberts rejects plea to discuss Supreme Court ethics and Alito flag controversy

Justices decide for themselves when to step aside from cases.

US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (Nati Harnik/AP)
US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (Nati Harnik/AP) (Nati Harnik/AP)

Chief Justice John Roberts has declined an invitation to meet with Democratic senators to talk about Supreme Court ethics and the controversy over flags that flew outside homes owned by Justice Samuel Alito.

Mr Roberts’ response came in a letter to the senators a day after Mr Alito separately wrote them and House members to reject their demands that he recuse from major Supreme Court cases involving former president Donald Trump and the January 6 rioters because of the flags, which are like those carried by rioters at the 2021 attack on the Capitol.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito (Carolyn Kaster/AP) (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Senate Judiciary chairman Dick Durbin and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of the Judiciary panel, had written to Mr Roberts a week ago to ask for the meeting and also that Mr Roberts take steps to ensure that Mr Alito recuses himself from any cases before the court concerning the January 6 attack or former president Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat.

“I must respectfully decline your request for a meeting,” Mr Roberts wrote.

Justices decide for themselves when to step aside from cases, Mr Roberts noted.

Mr Alito said he concluded nothing about the flags, both of which he said were flown by his wife outside their homes in Virginia and New Jersey, required his recusal.

Last year, Mr Roberts declined to testify at a Judiciary Committee hearing on Supreme Court ethics, and he made mention of that on Thursday in saying that chief justices only rarely have met with lawmakers.

“Moreover, the format proposed — a meeting with leaders only of one party who have expressed an interest in matters currently pending before the court — simply underscores that participating in such a meeting would be inadvisable,” he wrote.

Both Mr Alito and an another conservative justice, Clarence Thomas, have rejected calls to recuse themselves from cases related to the 2020 election, which Mr Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

Mr Thomas’ wife Ginni supported efforts to overturn the election results.

Public trust in the Supreme Court is at its lowest point in at least 50 years.

The justices are considering two major cases related to the Capitol attack, including charges faced by the rioters and whether Mr Trump has immunity from prosecution on election interference charges.