At the Supreme Court, Ethics Questions Over a Spouse’s Business Ties

The opinion says that judges should recuse themselves in certain situations, including if a spouse performed “four high level executive recruitments” for the same company in a year and collected large fees. That would constitute a “substantial and ongoing relationship,” but if the work were spread over a considerably longer period, “recusal may not be required.”

An ethics opinion by Bennett L. Gershman, a Pace University law professor and former Manhattan prosecutor, accompanied the letter and said “it is plausible that the Chief Justice’s spouse may have leveraged the ‘prestige of the judicial office’” to “raise their household income.” He added that those concerns, coupled with what he described as the chief justice’s lack of disclosure of potential conflicts, “threaten the public’s trust in the federal judiciary, and the Supreme Court itself.”

But another ethics expert, Amanda Frost, a law professor at the University of Virginia, said in an interview that Chief Justice Roberts appeared to have met his disclosure obligations. Ms. Frost said that judicial spouses should be able to have their own careers and that the chief justice would not need to recuse himself based on the nature of his wife’s work.

“It feels hard to imagine how this would corrupt his vote,” she said.

During the past year, the Supreme Court has contended with the leak of the draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade, as well as reports about the activities of Virginia Thomas, who joined efforts to overthrow the results of the 2020 presidential election. Her husband, Justice Clarence Thomas, later participated in court matters involving the election and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Mr. Price, in an interview, cited a “wave of revelations about the court and questionable decision-making or questionable behavior” as his impetus for coming forward now.

Last September, Politico reported on Mrs. Roberts’s recruiting work and the confidentiality of her clients.

Only a half-dozen of the people she recruited have been publicly identified, according to news reports reviewed by The Times. They are Robert Bennett, former lawyer to President Bill Clinton, recruited to Hogan Lovells in 2009; Neil MacBride, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to Davis Polk in 2013; Mr. Salazar, to WilmerHale in 2013; Brendan Johnson and Timothy Purdon, former U.S. attorneys for South Dakota and North Dakota, to Robins Kaplan in 2015; and Michael Held, former lawyer for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, to WilmerHale in 2022. (Mr. Salazar is now U.S. ambassador to Mexico, and Mr. MacBride is general counsel at the Treasury.)

About two years ago, Mrs. Roberts discussed her Washington office’s work in one key sector, saying in an interview that of the nation’s 50 leading law firms, more than half had “asked us for help in growing their antitrust practices.”

Ben Protess contributed reporting. Julie Tate contributed research.

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