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 February 13, 2023

Democrats ramp up Supreme Court ethics legislation as the justices can't agree on new rules

Democrats in the Senate are ramping up new legislation to promote stricter ethics guidelines for the Supreme Court.

This came following revelations that the justices have tried for years to reach an agreement on a new code of conduct, only to fail on unanimous consent, according to The Washington Examiner.

On the same day that the Washington Post reported that the justices had been trying for at least four years without success to agree on a code of conduct, citing sources familiar with the matter.

Democrats in the Senate introduced two pieces of legislation that aim to severely limit the justices' ability to exercise their own discretion on the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, which was first introduced in 1973 and is consulted by the nine justices on the bench.

The Supreme Court Ethics Act is the first bill introduced by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) with the support of 25 Democratic senators.

Rep. Hank Johnson supports companion legislation in the House (D-GA). Murphy's main provision would create a statutory ethics officer and a process for filing complaints against the justices for violating ethics rules.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act on Thursday, which Johnson also supports.

Its main provision includes a complaint process and the establishment of a panel to review the indiscretions of justices.

Several times in recent years, various justices' ethics standards have been called into question. Last year, text messages revealed that Justice Clarence Thomas's wife, Ginni Thomas, backed former President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the election.

Similarly, when liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg publicly criticized Trump during the 2016 campaign, ethics concerns arose.

Recently, Supreme Court ethics were called into question again after a former colleague of Chief Justice John Roberts's wife claimed a potential conflict of interest due to her paid work of recruiting lawyers at top firms.

In 2011, Brookings Institution judicial ethics expert Russell Wheeler wrote an op-ed titled "Regulating Supreme Court Justices’ Ethics—'Cures Worse Than the Disease?'"

He emphasized in his report that the Judicial Conference's rules "explicitly reject the position that a Code [of Conduct] violation is, per se, a ground for finding misconduct."

When asked if his views were consistent with the writing in his 2011 op-ed, Wheeler told the Washington Examiner on Friday his only change of perspective is that "the court would do itself a favor by issuing a code of conduct ... not because I think [it] would make an awful lot of difference, but it would show the public that the court is aware of its ethical obligations."

Written By:
Charlotte Tyler

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