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It Looks Like Chief Justice John Roberts May Be Giving Dick Durbin the Slip

Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool

Last Friday, Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) sent Chief Justice John Roberts a letter asking that he appear before the committee on May 2, or at least designate somebody else to appear. The chairman is worried about ethics concerns on the Court, especially in light of a heavily criticized report from ProPublica regarding Justice Clarence Thomas' financial disclosures, which he is amending


Durbin appeared on NBC News' "Meet the Press" on Sunday, where host Chuck Todd raised the question as to whether or not the chief justice has formally declined Durbin's request.

"You invited Chief Justice Roberts. He appears to have responded by saying, 'Thank you. Go ask the judicial reform folks for somebody.' Have you--do you believe he has turned your invitation down," Todd asked, also pointing out that "some of us are debating whether that response is an official decline of your invite."

Durbin still seems to be holding onto hope, though. "Well, I don't view that as an official response, and we're still waiting for the chief justice to answer my invitation. I think that's the first step that ought to be taken with the Supreme Court itself, with its leader, the chief justice," he responded in part.

Durbin had also shared in a Saturday press release posted to his website as well as the Judiciary Committee's newsroom site that he has received a response to an April 10 letter sent to Roberts requesting that the ProPublica reports be investigated. 


"The response letter was addressed to Chair Durbin from the Secretary of the Judicial Conference of the United States and states that the Senators’ April 10th letter was referred to the Judicial Conference and forwarded to the Judicial Conference Committee on Financial Disclosure.  The full letter can be found here," the press release explained. 

Durbin's own statement from Saturday involved something of a warning, or at least a preview of what's to come. "At this point, the Chief Justice has not responded to my invitation for him to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 2.  It is becoming clear that such an appearance by the Chief Justice may be the only way for the Court to set out with clarity any meaningful and credible reform.  As our April 10th letter stated, if the Court does not address shortcomings in its ethical standards, Congress must," Durbin said.

Another part of the segment also made headlines, especially as it pertains more to Justice Thomas. Todd also asked Durbin why he didn't just ask Thomas to come. 

"I think I know what would happen to that invitation. It would be ignored," Durbin bluntly responded. He then went on to speak more of Roberts, and why he claims that it is so important for him to come before the committee. 


"It is far better, from my point of view, to have the chief justice here. Listen, this is John Roberts' court. We are dealing with a situation where history will remember it as such. I was there when he went through his confirmation hearing. He is an articulate, well-schooled man when it comes to presenting his point of view. I'm sure he'll do well before the committee. But history is going to judge the Roberts Court by his decision as to reform. And I think this is an invitation on May 2nd for him to present it to the American people," Durbin continued. 

Regardless if such a response is "an official decline" or not, though, it doesn't seem likely that Roberts will be appearing. At least one Republican on the committee, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, doesn't think he should. 

Democrats do not have the votes to subpoena Thomas or Roberts, especially since Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is still absent and Republicans blocked a move for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to name Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) as her replacement. Durbin has also said that they are not looking at a subpoena. 


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