Key Senate Democrats seek meeting with Chief Justice Roberts over ‘Supreme Court’s ethics crisis’

Two top Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked to meet with Chief Justice John Roberts to address “the Supreme Court’s ethics crisis” following reports that controversial flags flown at the Capitol building by some supporters of Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2021, were also displayed at Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s homes.

In the letter released Friday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island asked to meet with Roberts “as soon as possible” and renewed their “call for the Supreme Court to adopt an enforceable code of conduct for justices.”

The senators wrote that Alito created “reasonable doubt as to his impartiality” and repeated calls for him to recuse himself in cases related to Trump and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The Supreme Court is currently set to weigh in on two cases related to Jan. 6: Trump’s presidential immunity claim in his election interference case and an appeal for a man prosecuted for his actions at the U.S. Capitol.

Their request comes after The New York Times reported that Alito flew an upside – down American flag at his home in Virginia in January 2021. At that time, weeks after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, the flag was a symbol used by those in the “Stop the Steal” movement, who believe that President Joe Biden did not win the 2020 presidential election.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin at the U.S. Capitol in 2023. Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images Following the first report, Durbin told NBC News that he didn’t plan to hold an inquiry on the matter but repeated calls for Alito to recuse himself from cases involving Trump.

A subsequent report in the Times found that an “Appeal to Heaven” flag, which was also flown by some Jan. 6 protesters, was flown for an undetermined period at the Alitos’ vacation home in New Jersey.

An “Appeal to Heaven” flag in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. Carolyn Kaster / AP file The news about Alito’s flags comes amid a litany of stories that have raised questions about the ethical standards of the court and calls for justices to recuse themselves from certain cases, including Justice Clarence Thomas, whose wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, is a conservative activist who supported Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Durbin and Whitehouse also allude to Thomas in their letter, writing that the justice has “repeatedly participated in cases relating to the January 6th attack on the Capitol and the alleged surrounding plot to overturn the 2020 election.”

“His wife’s involvement likely provided grounds for recusal under the federal recusal law,” the senators wrote. “But it appears that the Court has failed to ask what the facts were — particularly the critical facts as to what Justice Thomas knew about his wife’s interactions with alleged participants and when he knew it.”

The senators also repeated calls for the court to take “meaningful action” to address the “ongoing ethical crisis” by adopting an enforceable code of ethics. In November 2023, the court issued a 14-page code of conduct that failed to mention how ethics complaints would be enforced.

Alexandra Marquez

Alexandra Marquez is a politics reporter for NBC News.

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