Top Democrats who have been pressuring the Supreme Court to adopt a new code of ethics appear dissatisfied after the court’s unprecedented announcement of a new Code of Conduct, saying the code alone isn’t enough.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. said, ‘It is long past time for a code of conduct that explicitly applies to the justices,’ adding ‘the lack of any way to enforce the code should any justice decide to ignore it is a glaring omission.’
Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the new rules ‘fall short’ of what Congress ‘could and should expect,’ despite several Republicans saying Democrats’ efforts would be unconstitutional.
‘I’m still reviewing the court’s new code of conduct. For now, I will note that the court’s adoption of this code marks a step in the right direction,’ said Durbin.
‘It may fall short of the ethical standards which other federal judges are held to, and that’s unacceptable And if it falls short, the American people will ultimately have the last word, and the integrity of the court is at issue,’ he said.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., echoed that sentiment in comments via a video on X, formerly Twitter, calling the code a ‘first step’ and pushed for congressionally imposed enforcement rules.
But a Republican Judiciary Committee member, Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, said, ‘It’s the court’s role – not Congress’ – to set out how they operate as an independent, coequal branch of government.’
‘The efforts from Senate Democrats – including with their recent subpoena authorization charade – are nothing more than an attempt to delegitimize the court as an institution, simply because they disagree with its recent decisions,’ she charged.
Blackburn added the committee should focus its efforts on ‘protecting the safety’ of the justices and their families ‘given the threats from the far left’ they’ve faced in recent months.
Last week, Democrats on the committee attempted to authorize subpoenas of private citizens for their connections to some of the justices on the court, but after Republicans countered with threatening to request subpoenas for things like Jeffrey Epstein’s private jet manifests, Democrats appeared to sour on the idea.
On Tuesday, the nine justices issued an unprecedented Code of Conduct, along with a statement that said, ‘For the most part these rules and principles are not new: The Court has long had the equivalent of common law ethics rules, that is, a body of rules derived from a variety of sources, including statutory provisions, the code that applies to other members of the federal judiciary, ethics advisory opinions issued by the Judicial Conference Committee on Codes of Conduct, and historic practice.’
‘The absence of a Code, however, has led in recent years to the misunderstanding that the Justices of this Court, unlike all other jurists in this country, regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules,’ they 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,’ the justices added.
The code is a set of five ‘canons,’ including two new provisions that appear to be in response to reports over travel arrangements for private trips taken by Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas paid by others, and use of court staff for book promotion – referring to a recent report on Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s staff urging colleges and libraries to buy her latest book.
But Durbin responded with thinly veiled criticism, saying, ‘After years of refusing to act, a series of scandalous disclosures involving several justices on the court, and the Senate Judiciary Committee passing legislation sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on ethical reform, the Supreme Court has finally responded.’
‘Today, for the first time in history, the Supreme Court of the United States is at least saying to the American people: ‘We hear you,” he declared.
Durbin said he will ‘carefully review this proposed code of conduct to evaluate whether it complies with our goal that the highest court in the land not languish with the lowest standard of ethics in our federal government,’ adding that it ‘begins a dialogue which can end with restoring integrity of the court.
Carrie Severino, JCN president and a former clerk for Justice Thomas, predicted Tuesday that she doubts the code ‘will satisfy Senate Democrats and their liberal dark-money backers, as their campaign has never really been about ethics but rather intimidating a court that it despises for being faithful to the Constitution.’
Democrats on the committee have pushed to pass the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act, which would have required the Supreme Court to adopt a code of conduct, create a mechanism to investigate alleged violations of the code of conduct and other laws, update disclosure and transparency when a justice has a connection to a party or amicus before the court, and require justices to explain their recusal decisions to the public.
But it was met with sharp criticism from Republicans, including Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., who said the measure would be ”as dead as a fried chicken,’ indicating that he did not believe the measure would earn the 60 votes needed to advance on the Senate floor.
He also said the legislation is meant to be ‘a court-killing machine.’
‘It would allow any jackaloon out there in America in a tinfoil hat, whose own dog thinks he’s an utter nutter, to file a motion to recuse a United States Supreme Court justice.’
‘Now, what could possibly go wrong? And my Democratic colleagues know that,’ he said.
Kennedy said the bill is ‘dangerous, but it’s unserious.’