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Why Is There Opposition to Stronger Ethics Rules at SCOTUS?

Here’s the genesis of why there are no Republican cosponsors to the Supreme Court Ethics Act the Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) discusses in her Politico op-ed:

In 2011 there were reports that Justice Clarence Thomas failed to report wife’s income on his annual disclosure report and flew on a major GOP donor’s private plane without reporting that either. As a response, Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) drafted a bill requiring Supreme Court justices to follow the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges that the rest of the federal judiciary must follow.

It was seen as a way to needle Thomas and other Republican-appointed justices who had committed ethical lapses, and no Republicans joined the bill – nor did they join the 2013, 2015 or 2017 versions.

In truth, every justice has committed ethical lapses. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito have all sat on cases on which they’ve ignored statutory stock conflicts. Justice Antonin Scalia didn’t report flights and hunting trips paid for by private individuals. Justice Anthony Kennedy went on junkets paid by a frequent litigant before the court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg heard cases related to husband’s tax law business and has spoken about open cases. Justice Elena Kagan’s justification for hearing Obamacare cases, in spite her work in the administration, is weak. Justice Gorsuch shouldn’t have spoken at Trump Hotel in September.

With everyone making errors, the answer isn’t to ignore the problem (like the GOP) or to introduce the same single-party bill Congress after Congress (like the Democrats).

Yes, there are ethical provisions in the federal recusal statute, and, to our knowledge, none of the justices has committed an impeachable offense. But Congress has the responsibility to show moral leadership if SCOTUS takes a pass, which it has.

Both parties should come together to find solution that maintains judicial independence while acknowledging need for stronger ethics rules.

And yes, it’d be constitutional; Article III allows Congress broad authority over federal courts on their budget, the number of justices, etc., so ethics rules would be okay.

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