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Chief Justice declines meeting with Democratic senators

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Chief Justice John Roberts declined to meet with Democratic senators on Thursday to discuss Supreme Court ethics after a controversy about flags flown at Justice Samuel Alito’s house.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., had pushed for Justice Samuel Alito to recuse himself from upcoming Supreme Court cases dealing with Jan. 6, 2021, and the effort to overturn the 2020 election. On Wednesday, Alito explained why he wouldn’t recuse himself.

Roberts said Alito had addressed the issue.

“In regard to your questions concerning any Justice’s participation in pending cases, the Members of the Supreme Court recently affirmed the practice we have followed from 235 years pursuant to which individual Justices decide recusal issues,” Roberts wrote in the letter.

Roberts also declined a meeting with Durbin and Whitehouse, saying it was inappropriate given the separation of federal powers into three branches.

“I must respectfully decline your request for a meeting,” the Chief Justice wrote. “As noted in my letter to Chairman Durbin last April, apart from ceremonial events, only on rare occasions in our Nation’s history has a sitting Chief Justice met with legislators, even in a public setting (such as a Committee hearing) with members of both major political parties present. Separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence counsel against such appearances.”

Roberts added that the proposal was “inadvisable.”

“Moreover, the format proposed – a meeting with leaders of only one party who have expressed an interest in matters currently pending before the Court – simply underscores that participating in such a meeting would be inadvisable,” he wrote.

On Wednesday, Alito told critics in a letter that he has no plans to recuse himself from cases involving the Jan. 6 capitol attack or former President Donald Trump’s request for presidential immunity.

The letter came after controversy about the flags flown at Alito’s houses, which some members of Congress have said indicate the justice can’t be fair on matters before the nation’s highest court.

“My wife is fond of flying flags. I am not,” Alito wrote in the letter.

He said his wife chose to fly an upside-down American flag at a house they own jointly in Virginia. The other incident involved the “Appeal to Heaven” flag at a beach house. On Wednesday, Alito said he was aware of the flag but didn’t know how long it had flown. Alito also said he wasn’t familiar with the “Appeal to Heaven” flag or its connection to the “Stop the Steal Movement.”