House Democrats Propose Independent Ethics Office for Supreme Court

Sam Dorman
By Sam Dorman
June 5, 2024Congress
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House Democrats Propose Independent Ethics Office for Supreme Court
Ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) speaks during John Durham’s testimony in Congress in Washington on June 21, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

A group of House Democrats proposed legislation on June 4 that would install two independent offices within the Supreme Court designed to address unethical conduct.

An Office of Investigative Counsel would probe potential ethics violations while the Office of Ethics Counsel would provide training for justices and their spouses. The legislation, titled Supreme Court Ethics and Investigations Act, comes amid Justice Samuel Alito claiming that his wife decided to fly an upside down flag outside of his Virginia home.

“We expect the justices of the Supreme Court to adhere to the highest standards of ethical conduct, but their conduct too often falls short,” House Judiciary Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said during a press conference with colleagues outside of the Supreme Court.

The legislation is the latest of many similar actions by Congressional Democrats, who have criticized both Justice Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas over alleged ethical problems.

Rep. Mikie Sherill (D-N.J.), who co-sponsored the bill denounced what she called “flagrant ethics violations from Justices Thomas and Alito.” Both justices had encountered scrutiny following revelations about gifts from real estate developer Harlan Crow and GOP donor Robin Arkley respectively.

According to Ms. Sherill’s office, the bill also “[p]rovides Congress the ability to submit ethics complaints to the Office of Investigative Counsel and delivers reports on those complaints in a timely manner.”

Justice Alito has vehemently defended himself and rejected Democrats’ call for his recusal from cases related to the events of Jan. 6, 2021. In May, a group of 45 House Democrats requested his recusal in a letter.

“Even if you had ‘no involvement’ in the display yourself, the fact of such a political statement at your home creates, at minimum, the appearance of improper political bias,” the letter read.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), who spearheaded the letter, appeared alongside Mr. Nadler during the press conference on June 4.

Resistance from Justices

House Democrats have also formed the Court Reform Now Task Force, which Mr. Johnson’s office said “will be utilized as a platform to increase awareness and elevate debate around key pieces of court reform legislation to fix and rebalance the court.”

So far, Fix the Court and Accountable.US—both left-leaning interest groups—have endorsed the legislation but it’s unlikely to succeed in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

In the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has threatened to subpoena associates of Justices Thomas and Alito. He and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) also sent Chief Justice John Roberts a letter on May 23 requesting that he ensure Justice Alito’s recusal from certain cases.

Justice Alito responded on May 29 with a letter disputing the idea that he violated the justices’ code of conduct. Amid Democratic scrutiny last year, the justices released an ethics code that was criticized for lacking a sufficient enforcement mechanism.

In his letter, Justice Alito also denied involvement with flying the “An Appeal to Heaven” flag at his vacation home in 2023. His wife, he said, was the one who flew that flag as well.

“A reasonable person who is not motivated by political or ideological considerations or a desire to affect the outcome of Supreme Court cases would conclude that this event does not meet the applicable standard for recusal,” he said. “I am therefore duty-bound to reject your recusal request.”

Chief Justice Roberts also declined the senators’ request for a meeting, citing concerns about separation of powers.

“Separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence counsel against such appearances,” he wrote. “Moreover, the format proposed—a meeting with leaders of only one party who have expressed an interest in matters currently pending before the court—simply underscores that participating in such a meeting would be inadvisable.”

Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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