Senate Committee Advances Supreme Court Ethics Code, Recusal Reform
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Senate Judiciary Committee spent hours debating a bill that calls for the Supreme Court to impose more rigorous rules for the disclosure of travel, gifts and income received by the justices and their law clerks. The bill would also tighten rules for when justices must recuse themselves from cases.
“It was eleven years ago on a very different Supreme Court when I first called on Chief Justice Roberts to adopt a binding code of conduct for all Supreme Court Justices,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D- IL).
The legislation follows recent reporting highlighting potential ethical concerns from both conservative and liberal justices. ProPublica reported Justice Clarence Thomas accepted luxury vacations and travel arrangements from a republican mega donor. There have also been reports that Justice Samuel Alito flew aboard a private jet provided by a hedge fund billionaire for a luxury trip. Neither Thomas nor Alito included the trips and financial dealings on their financial disclosure forms. In addition to this, other reporting claims Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s court staff pushed public entities hosting her to purchase her books and that she failed to recuse herself from cases involving her book publisher.
Republicans said this is an attempt by the left to undermine the Court’s conservative majority after major decisions on abortion, guns, religious rights and affirmative action.
“This is a bill to destroy a conservative court,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R- SC). “It’s a bill to create a situation where conservative judges can be disqualified by statute. It’s a bill to rearrange how the Court governs itself, it's an assault on the Court.”
This legislation barely go through the Judiciary Committee on an eleven to ten vote. It will next head to the Senate floor but some republican senators said this bill is dead on arrival, so we don’t expect it to move out of the Senate.
According to the Judicial Conference, lower court judges must follow a code of conduct that advises them to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities. But the ethics standards adopted by the judicial conference does not cover Supreme Court Justices. Chief Justice John Roberts said each justice signs a statement of ethics and principles and practices which he said they all adhere to.