Supreme Court Bows to Pressure with New Ethics Code
In an unprecedented move, the Supreme Court announced a new ‘Code of Conduct’ on Monday, following months of intense scrutiny from Senate Judiciary Democrats pushing for new ethics laws for the highest court in the land. The move comes as a response to the relentless pressure mounted by the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee after reports surfaced that Justices Thomas and Alito went on luxury vacations paid for by friends.
The Supreme Court’s announcement read, “The undersigned Justices are promulgating this Code of Conduct to set out succinctly and gather in one place the ethics rules and principles that guide the conduct of the Members of the Court.”
The new Code of Conduct is a set of five “canons,” including two new canons that appear to respond to reports over travel arrangements for private trips taken by Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas paid by others. The code also addresses the use of Court staff for book promotion, referring to a recent report that staff of Justice Sonia Sotomayor urged colleges and libraries to buy her latest book.
The statement from the justices’ said, “To dispel this misunderstanding, we are issuing this Code, which largely represents a codification of principles that we have long regarded as governing our conduct.”
Despite these efforts, some critics argue that these changes are not about trying to update the ability of the court to be more transparent, but rather an effort to destroy the legitimacy of this conservative court. Ranking Member Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., accused his Democratic counterparts of launching “a concentrated effort” to delegitimize the conservative majority Supreme Court.
Republican Senator John Kennedy, R-La., called the Democrat-sponsored legislation – the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act – a “court-killing machine” that was both “dangerous” and “unserious.”
The Supreme Court has been privately meeting for months on how to structure a new ethics code, in an effort that would address public concerns over ethics without abdicating what the Chief Justice referred to as the court’s independence from congressional oversight.
It remains unclear whether Committee Democrats will continue to push for their reforms in light of the Supreme Court’s announcement Monday. The new Code of Conduct is a significant step towards increased transparency and accountability, but it also raises questions about the balance between the court’s independence and external pressures.