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Supreme Court chief justice declines meeting with Dems amid Alito ethics flap

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Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has declined a meeting request from two senior Senate Democrats amid a swirl of ethics questions surrounding the conduct of Justice Samuel Alito and, predating that flap, Justice Clarence Thomas.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Roberts said such a meeting would be “inadvisable” given the proposed format: “a meeting with leaders of only one party who have expressed an interest in matters currently pending before the Court.”

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

Democrats have pressured Roberts to intervene in the controversies engulfing the nation’s highest court, but the chief justice’s letter amounts to a formal stiff-arm of their push for him to answer questions about the episodes. Alito has faced scrutiny over reporting in The New York Times that two of his properties displayed flags with links to those flown by protestors during the Jan. 6 Capitol attack by supporters of President Donald Trump.

A defiant Alito rebuffed Democratic demands on Wednesday that he recuse himself from pending cases involving the Capitol riot and former President Donald Trump’s claims of immunity, in light of the display of the flags. Instead, he blamed his wife, Martha-Ann Alito, for the flags.

“My wife is fond of flying flags. I am not,” he wrote to Congress, denying that he or his wife knew of the ties between the gestures and groups who aimed to overthrow President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.

Durbin and Whitehouse’s meeting request, in that context, came as a sort of middle ground after the chair said he had no plans to call Alito or Roberts to testify before the committee, despite the wishes of other Democratic senators.

Prior to the latest Alito flap, the Judiciary Committee spent months battling with Thomas over significant lapses in his financial and gift disclosures and his ties to billionaire GOP donor Harlan Crow. Thomas and Roberts held firm then in rejecting meetings and invitations to testify before the Judiciary panel.

Late last year, under pressure from Congress, the Supreme Court adopted a formal ethics code for the first time in its history — but without independent enforcement mechanisms that critics, including congressional Democrats, had pushed for.

Josh Gerstein contributed.