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Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Supreme Court Ethics Reform

“Today, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), in his capacity as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action, and Federal Rights, co-led a hearing of the full Judiciary Committee entitled, “Supreme Court Ethics Reform.”  The hearing explored the recent torrent of media reports detailing unethical conduct by Justices of the Supreme Court and legislative solutions to improve ethics, accountability, and transparency at the nation’s highest Court. “We are here today because the Supreme Court is playing out of bounds of the ethics rules for federal judges.  Justices read the ethics rules in unique and eccentric ways, and when they’re caught out of bounds they refuse to allow any investigation of the facts,” said Whitehouse. Whitehouse concluded, “Until there is an honest ethics process at the Supreme Court, these messes will continue.  The Court has conclusively proven that it cannot police itself.” Senator Whitehouse’s legislation would remedy the Supreme Court’s ethical shortfalls that were the focus of the hearing.  In February, Whitehouse and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) reintroduced the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act, comprehensive legislation to create a much-needed process for investigating misconduct at the Supreme Court, strengthen recusal standards for judges and disclosure rules for special interests trying to influence the courts, improve disclosure of gifts and travel for judges, and mandate the creation of a binding code of ethics.  The SCERT Act would require the Supreme Court to adopt disclosure rules for gifts, travel, and income that are at least as rigorous as ethics rules for members of Congress.  The New York Times editorial board endorsed the legislation last month. The hearing followed a bombshell ProPublica report exposing that Justice Thomas and his wife accepted extravagant vacations worth as much as $500,000 on the dime of Republican megadonor Harlan Crow and did not disclose the travel.  That reporting was later followed by an additional ProPublica story detailing Crow’s purchase of a string of properties from Justice Thomas and his family members, which was not properly disclosed”

  • Video of the full hearing can be found here.  Text of Whitehouse’s as-delivered opening remarks is below, and video of the remarks can be found here. Link to S.359 – Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act of 2023

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