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Senator Brings Scrutiny to SCOTUS Ethics at Confirmation Hearing

By Tyler Cooper, FTC senior researcher

In a day otherwise dominated mostly by the usual partisan and political nit-picking over the nominee’s record and background, Sen. Richard Blumenthal used part of his time with Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson today to highlight the need for greater accountability at the Supreme Court.

On transparency:

Sen. Blumenthal: “Tell me how you feel about the basic principle of transparency and more visibility.”

Judge Jackson: “Well, Senator, one of the reasons, as I said, that I write such long opinions is because I want everybody to know exactly the arguments I’ve considered, the facts that I’ve reviewed, and in pretty fine detail, the course of my reasoning. And I’ve done this in 570 opinions. I think it’s important for public confidence, as you say, for people who are bound by the law and who are affected by the courts, to know what the court’s views are. With respect to the issue of cameras in the courtroom, I understand that that is something that is proceeding through Congress and if I was confirmed I would look forward to talking with my colleagues to understand the positions that people have regarding that issue.”

And on ethics:

Sen. Blumenthal: “Does that code of ethics [Code of Conduct for United States Judges] apply to the United States Supreme Court?”

Judge Jackson: “My understanding is that it does not.”

Sen. Blumenthal: “Correct. And my hope is that you will perhaps urge your colleagues as well to support a code of ethics. They haven’t done so as yet, but I think we have an obligation in the Congress to set forth a code of ethics, and I hope they’ll support it. Senator Durbin and others of us have supported that kind of measure as well. And I would just ask you whether you’ll raise it with your colleagues if you’re confirmed.

Judge Jackson: “Certainly if Congress is taking anything up that requires our review, I would absolutely consider it, and even if not I would consider talking to them about it.”

In sum: the lack of any written ethical standards continues to be a drain on the Supreme Court’s standing with the public.

And as long as the court’s power rests entirely on the public’s respect for its decisions, this deficiency will remain an unnecessary, self-inflicted wound.

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