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Senate Judiciary Committee Endorses Bill to Reinforce Ethical Standards for Supreme Court Justices

by Chloe Baker
4 comments
Supreme Court Ethics Bill

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill proposing stricter ethical standards for Supreme Court justices, responding to recent controversies over justices’ donor-funded trips. However, the bill encountered unanimous opposition from Republicans, arguing it could jeopardize the integrity of the court.

The Committee endorsed the ethics legislation, which established rules and enforcement mechanisms, aimed at enhancing transparency regarding recusals, gifts, and potential conflicts of interest. The Democrats spearheaded the bill following reports of Justice Clarence Thomas’s involvement in lavish vacations and a real estate transaction with a top GOP donor. Simultaneously, Chief Justice John Roberts declined to testify before the committee regarding the court’s ethical practices.

Justice Samuel Alito’s luxurious vacation with a GOP donor and Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s promotion of her books through college visits, facilitated by her staff, were also brought to light through recent news reports.

Despite the Senate Judiciary Committee’s approval, the ethics bill faces bleak prospects for passage in the Senate and the Republican-dominated House of Representatives due to its need for at least nine GOP votes and strong Republican opposition. Nevertheless, Democrats argue that the recent revelations necessitate enforceable court standards.

Dick Durbin, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stated that the legislation is a vital initial step towards restoring confidence in the court, pointing out that similar activities by senators would breach ethical rules.

The legislation arises from escalating tension and partisanship within the committee over judiciary matters. The recent conservative shift of the court, resulting from former President Donald Trump’s nomination of three conservative justices, has led to overturning some liberal priorities, including the nationwide right to an abortion.

Republicans argue that the bill is primarily a response to Democrats’ disapproval of the court’s rulings rather than its ethical conduct. GOP panel member, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, accused the bill of intending to harass and intimidate the Supreme Court. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, echoed Grassley’s sentiment, warning that the Democrats are attempting to dismantle the existing court by tightening rules around recusals and barring conservatives from certain decisions. Graham labeled the bill as an attack on the court itself.

An extensive investigation by The Big Big News, involving over 100 public records requests to educational institutions visited by the Supreme Court, has revealed insightful information.

The proposed legislation introduces a Supreme Court “code of conduct” and an enforcement process modeled after lower courts with existing ethical codes. The bill calls for increased information disclosure about potential conflicts of interest, judicial panels to review recusal decisions, public written explanations for non-recusal decisions, and enhanced transparency regarding gifts received by justices. It also establishes a mechanism for investigating and sanctioning disclosure violations.

Republicans in the committee proposed several amendments to the bill, including increased security for judges following a security breach near Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home. Majority Democrats dismissed most amendments, accusing Republicans of diverting attention from the proposed ethics reforms.

Durbin countered arguments suggesting the bill is politically motivated, referencing his advocacy for Supreme Court ethics reforms dating back over a decade when the court leaned more liberally. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer praised the committee’s decision, emphasizing the necessity to prevent the Supreme Court from being swayed by extreme wealth and MAGA extremists.

The push for reform was fueled by revelations of Justice Thomas’s undisclosed financial transactions and gifts from GOP donor Harlan Crow. Crow purchased three properties from Thomas’s family worth over $100,000 and financed extravagant trips for Thomas and his wife, Ginni.

While invited to testify, Roberts declined, citing the need to preserve judicial independence. He provided a signed statement on ethical principles and practices from all nine justices.

The statement expressed the justices’ commitment to ethical principles but also admitted that the court could enhance its ethical standards. Yet, it did not specify how and there hasn’t been any public follow-up. The statement did promise some disclosure when a justice decides not to participate in a case, but such promises have been inconsistently kept.

Other revelations included universities enticing financial contributors with justice visits and justices partaking in expense-covered teaching trips to desirable locations with minimal classroom instruction.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Supreme Court Ethics Bill

What is the purpose of the ethics legislation proposed by the Senate Judiciary Committee?

The legislation proposes stronger ethical standards for Supreme Court justices. This includes rules and enforcement mechanisms to enhance transparency around recusals, gifts, and potential conflicts of interest. The bill has been proposed in response to recent controversies over justices’ donor-funded trips and potential conflicts of interest.

Who has opposed the ethics legislation and why?

The ethics legislation faced united opposition from Republicans. They argue that the bill could jeopardize the integrity of the court. They also claim the legislation is primarily a response to the Democrats’ disapproval of the court’s rulings rather than its ethical conduct.

What is the likelihood of the ethics legislation passing in the Senate or the House of Representatives?

Given the strong opposition from Republicans and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, the bill has a low likelihood of passing. It would require at least nine GOP votes in the Senate, which seems unlikely considering the unanimous opposition from Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Who are some of the Supreme Court justices involved in the recent controversies?

Recent reports have brought to light the activities of Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito, who participated in luxurious vacations with GOP donors, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who promoted her books through college visits.

What measures does the bill propose for ensuring Supreme Court justices’ adherence to ethical standards?

The bill suggests introducing a Supreme Court “code of conduct” with a process for adjudicating the policy, modeled on lower courts with existing ethical codes. The legislation calls for increased disclosure about potential conflicts of interest, judicial panels to review recusal decisions, public written explanations for non-recusal decisions, and enhanced transparency around gifts received by justices. It also seeks to set up a mechanism for investigating and sanctioning disclosure violations.

More about Supreme Court Ethics Bill

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4 comments

Bookworm88 July 21, 2023 - 2:21 am

It’s about time they hold the justices accountable for their actions! The recent revelations about lavish trips and undisclosed transactions are concerning. #TransparencyMatters

Reply
LegalEagle22 July 21, 2023 - 8:34 am

Republicans should stop politicizing the issue and focus on the need for stronger ethics standards. It’s important to maintain public trust in the highest court. #RuleOfLaw

Reply
JohnDoe82 July 21, 2023 - 8:43 am

lol Dems just want 2 mess with the Suprem Court cuz they dont like the decisions they make. Typical politics. #PartisanAgenda

Reply
PoliSciStudent July 21, 2023 - 8:07 pm

Can’t believe this bill won’t likely pass. We need stricter ethics for all branches of government. Let’s hope they find a way to hold the Supreme Court accountable.

Reply

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