GOP Members Hit Brakes on SCOTUS Ethics Bill

GOP Members Hit Brakes on SCOTUS Ethics Bill

( – Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) rallied a group of Republican lawmakers to halt a measure sponsored by Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that would require the Supreme Court to adopt a binding code of ethics and establish procedures to enforce the code. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had hoped to pass the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act in committee by a unanimous voice vote. Graham, the ranking member, denied him.

More than 55% of Americans disapproved of the job the Supreme Court is doing, according to polls tallied by FiveThirtyEight. By comparison, only 34.6% felt the High Court was performing to expectation, as of June 12. It’s a historic drop for the bench. Last year, a ProPublica exposé series called “Friends of the Court” disclosed a number of situations that have raised SCOTUS ethics questions.

The outcry prompted hearings and an invitation to Chief Justice John Roberts to speak before the committee, which he declined, citing Separation of Powers. On November 13, 2023, the Justices voluntarily adopted a new Code of Conduct. However, it was not binding and was self-enforced.

While the new code touched on some points mentioned in the SCERT Act proposal, it left out any mechanisms to receive, investigate, or process judicial misconduct complaints. It also mentioned no tools for enforcement other than self-enforcement.

Whitehouse and Durbin argued that the measure would help ensure the Court’s integrity and restore citizens’ confidence. Graham called it “unconstitutional overreach” and said it would “undermine” the SCOTUS’s effective operation.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) went further, claiming the bill was retribution for the Court’s abortion ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe v Wade, a nearly 50-year-old precedent. Kennedy said he didn’t believe the measure was “about ethics.” Instead, he said, “This bill is about abortion.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) said he believed the proposed bill responded to the cases Democrats had before the Court and their concerns regarding those cases. The SCOTUS could hand down several significant rulings over the next six weeks, including findings on Donald Trump’s claims of presidential immunity in two federal criminal cases.

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