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Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’s Wife Could Face Ethics Inquiry

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’s wife could face an ethics inquiry by the Department of Justice.

A former colleague of Jane Sullivan Roberts has formally asked the DOJ for an inquiry after claiming that the chief justice’s wife had been paid millions in commissions to place lawyers at firms — some of which have business before the Supreme Court. Jane Roberts is a high-end legal recruiter.

“In his letter last month, Kendal Price, a 66-year-old Boston lawyer, argued that the justices should be required to disclose more information about their spouses’ work. He did not cite specific Supreme Court decisions, but said he was worried that a financial relationship with law firms arguing before the court could affect justices’ impartiality or at least give the appearance of doing so,” the New York Times reported.

“Mrs. Roberts, now the managing partner of the Washington office of Macrae Inc., had spent two decades at the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, where she became a partner in the global technology group and also focused on talent development. In 2007, she changed careers and soon ascended the ranks of her new industry. Partners at leading law firms in Washington on average make well over $1 million a year, and at the high end, they can be paid over $7 million. Recruiting firms take a large cut from those placements, often equivalent to a quarter of the new hires’ first-year salaries,” the NYT reported.

“The spreadsheets list six-figure fees credited to Mrs. Roberts for placing partners at law firms — including $690,000 in 2012 for one such match. The documents do not name clients, but Mr. Price recalled her recruitment of one prominent candidate, Ken Salazar, then interior secretary under President Barack Obama, to WilmerHale, a global firm that boasts of arguing more than 125 times before the Supreme Court,” the outlet added.

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“I do believe that litigants in U.S. courts, and especially the Supreme Court, deserve to know if their judges’ households are receiving six-figure payments from the law firms,” Price wrote.

The Supreme Court released its report earlier this month into who might have leaked the draft opinion, which overturned the Court’s controversial precedent in Roe v. Wade on a “constitutional right” to abortion and returned the issue to the states.

The investigation concluded without identifying the source of the leak to Politico last year:

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The investigation by the marshal of the Supreme Court included a forensic investigation of laptops and phones but found “no relevant information from these devices.” The marshal’s office determined that 82 employees had access to the opinion and interviewed 97 employees, all of whom denied leaking the opinion.

In addition, the marshal investigated connections between employees and contacts in the media, with a particular focus on Politico. They also followed up on social media claims of who might have leaked the decision, but “investigators found nothing to substantiate any of the social media allegations.”

The report states that the court conducted interviews with nearly 100 employees, but does not discuss any interviews of the justices themselves.

Several have pointed out that it seems odd that none of the justices appear to have been interviewed in the investigation:

For these reasons and others, the Court immediately and unanimously agreed that the extraordinary betrayal of trust that took place last May warranted a thorough investigation. The Chief Justice assigned the task to the Marshal of the Supreme Court and her staff. After months of diligent analysis of forensic evidence and interviews of almost 100 employees, the Marshal’s team determined that no further investigation was warranted with respect to many of the “82 employees [who] had access to electronic or hard copies of the draft opinion.” Marshal’s Report of Findings & Recommendations 11 (Jan. 19, 2023). In following up on all available leads, however, the Marshal’s team performed additional forensic analysis and conducted multiple follow-up interviews of certain employees. But the team has to date been unable to identify a person responsible by a preponderance of the evidence. Id., at 17. A public version of the Marshal’s report is attached.

Recently, this Court consulted Michael Chertoff. Mr. Chertoff is a former Secretary of Homeland Security, Judge of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the U. S. Department of Justice, and U. S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey. We invited Mr. Chertoff to assess the Marshal’s investigation. He has advised that the Marshal “undertook a thorough investigation” and, “[a]t this time, I cannot identify any additional useful investigative measures” not already undertaken or underway. Statement from Michael Chertoff 1 (2023). A copy of Mr. Chertoff’s statement is attached.

Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz recently offered his opinion of who he believes leaked the draft to Politico.

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