Despite all his talk of protecting his court’s “legacy,” Roberts happily leans into that bit of theater because conservatives are always the victims. Just like Justice Samuel Alito, who earlier this month whined about the rabble-rousing public being angry with him for taking basic bodily autonomy away from half of us. “[T]his type of concerted attack on the court and on individual justices is new during my lifetime,” Alito complained. “We are being hammered daily, and I think quite unfairly in a lot of instances. And nobody, practically nobody, is defending us.” Devastatingly tragic, isn’t it?
Clearly, the courts and the individual judges making life and death decisions about all of us are supposed to be above all that. Never mind that whole “coequal branch of government” business for these guys—they don’t have to worry about being reelected and have their jobs for life, so accountability isn’t their problem.
Roberts made that abundantly clear in his speech, brushing away the mounting ethics problems on the high court. He’s got it all under control. “I want to assure people I am committed to make certain that we as a court adhere to the highest standards of conduct,” Roberts said. “We are continuing to look at things we can do practically to that effect.”
That’s totally believable. That’s why he refused the invitation of the Senate Judiciary Committee to come discuss what the court was doing about the questions of accountability swirling around the court. “I am confident there are ways to do that that are consistent with our status as an independent branch of government under the Constitution’s separation of powers,” Roberts added. Got that? The branch of government that literally tells the legislative and executive branches what they can or can’t do now claims that Congress, the branch that appropriates the money that pays their salary and funds their operations, lacks similar oversight over their business.
That’s certainly the message Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland is sending. Van Hollen chairs the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, the one in charge of the Supreme Court budget. He said earlier this month that he’s looking “at all the options” for imposing reforms on the court.
Roberts isn’t going to step up here, that much is clear. Congress is going to have to do it. Voters gave Democrats a Senate majority in 2022 and it’s time to fully wield that power. Roberts’ arrogant and smug dismissal of the Senate gives them all the ammunition they need to do it.