Republicans Say They'll Block Supreme Court Code of Ethics

Senate committee approves disclosure rules, complaint process
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 20, 2023 6:45 PM CDT
Republicans Say They'll Block Supreme Court Code of Ethics
Members of the Supreme Court sit for a new group portrait in October 2022. Bottom row, from left, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito, and Justice Elena Kagan. Top row, from left, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Justice Neil Gorsuch, Justice...   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

A Democratic proposal to require the Supreme Court to adopt an ethics code for itself passed a Senate committee on Thursday but appears to have little future in the rest of Congress. The bill can't clear the full Senate or House without Republican support, and GOP lawmakers have said they won't back it, CBS News reports. The committee vote was along party lines, 11-10. The Democrats' effort picked up steam after news coverage about Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito accepting but not reporting gifts from Republican donors. The idea of an ethics code has been around but has never gone anywhere with the court.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, a Democrat, said he suggested it to Chief Justice John Roberts 11 years ago. "Unfortunately, he did not accept my suggestion," Durbin said Thursday, per the Hill. "Since then as more and more stories have emerged of justices' ethical lapses, the American people's confidence in the Supreme Court has dropped to an all-time low." Republicans said the proposal is retaliation for a series of rulings that Democrats have opposed. "This is a bill to destroy a conservative court," GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said.

The Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act also would create a transparent process for members of the public to submit ethics complaints against justices. A panel of chief judges from lower courts would make recommendations after complaints are received. Gifts, travel, and income received by the justices and their law clerks would be subject to disclosure rules comparable to those in the Senate and House. Lower court judges have had to follow a code of conduct since 1973, but it doesn't apply to Supreme Court justices. "The highest court in the land has the lowest standards of ethics anywhere in the federal government," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the bill's main sponsor, per the Washington Post. (More US Supreme Court stories.)

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