Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts eschewed any discussion of the Court’s recent ethics controversies in his 2020 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary. The annual report is a summary of the federal courts’ activities during the previous year, and Roberts used it to highlight the courts’ accomplishments in 2020.
Roberts’ report comes at a time when the Supreme Court’s ethical standards are under increased scrutiny. Several of the Court’s Justices have been accused of conflicts of interest constituted by financial investments in companies whose cases they have heard in the courtroom. Roberts did not directly address these issues in his report, instead opting to focus on the success of the federal courts in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Chief Justice acknowledged that the pandemic had caused “unprecedented disruption” to the normal functioning of the courts, but he noted that the courts had adapted their functioning in order to remain “functional and accessible to all”. He praised the judiciary’s determination to remain open and to adjust to new processes in order to handle civil and criminal cases in a timely manner. Roberts also commented on the need to ensure the safety of court personnel while still providing “essential services” to those who need them.
Overall, Roberts’ report was light on details and largely avoided discussion of the Supreme Court’s alleged ethical lapses. Critics of the Court have argued that the report should have addressed the issues head-on. Nevertheless, Roberts concluded his report by emphasizing the Court’s duty to “provide justice, fairness, and access to the people of the United States.”