Slaughter, Murphy Reintroduce Supreme Court Ethics Reform Bill Ahead of Monumental Supreme Court Cases
WASHINGTON – Today, just days ahead of monumental Supreme Court hearings on same-sex marriage and the death penalty, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) reintroduced the Supreme Court Ethics Act, a bill that would require the United States Supreme Court to adopt a code of ethics for Supreme Court Justices. Unlike every other federal judge, Supreme Court justices are exempt from the Code of Conduct for United States Judges—a binding code of ethics that ensures neutrality and transparency in our courts. The Supreme Court Ethics Act being reintroduced today would require the Court to adopt a code of ethics within 180 days of passage under which the nine members of the Supreme Court would be held accountable.
Recent instances of dubious ethical behavior have increased scrutiny of the Court and eroded public confidence in the institution. Justices have allowed their names to be used to promote political fundraisers, attended seminars sponsored by high-profile political donors, failed to report family income from politically active groups, and failed to recuse themselves when deciding cases where there exists a conflict of interest. The Court’s recent pattern of siding with powerful corporate interests more often than preceding courts has also raised concerns among many observers.
In 2012, 212 legal scholars jointly urged the Supreme Court to adopt the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges. To date, more than 130,000 Americans have signed a petition to Chief Justice John Roberts asking him to adopt a code of ethics for the high court.
Original cosponsors of the Supreme Court Ethics Act include U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.), U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), as well as 25 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“There is absolutely no reason why Supreme Court Justices shouldn’t be subject to the same code of conduct as all other federal judges,” said Murphy. “The American people deserve to know that our highest court is held to the highest ethical standards, which is why we introduced the Supreme Court Ethics Act. This bill will make the court more accountable and more transparent, and will help guarantee the integrity of our country's highest court."
Slaughter said, “The questionable activities of some of our Supreme Court justices have been well documented – participating in political functions, failing to report family income from political groups, and attending fundraisers. It doesn’t make sense that members of the highest court in the land are the only federal judges exempt from the code of conduct. Our bill, the Supreme Court Ethics Act would, for the first time, make sure the justices adhere to the federal code of conduct and are accountable for these types of ethically dubious activities. Perhaps more importantly, the bill would help repair the public’s trust in the Court, the final arbiter of justice in America.”
“There is no reason in law or logic that the leaders of the Supreme Court should be treated differently than any other federal judge,” said Blumenthal. “No Justice, any more than a judge, should advance a partisan cause or sit on a case involving a personal friend or interest. This legislation will preserve public trust and confidence – the lifeblood of the Supreme Court.”
"This legislation would finally establish guidelines for the conduct of our nation's highest court," said Whitehouse. "Every other federal judge in America is already subject to a code of conduct, and our Supreme Court justices should be too. I thank Senator Murphy and Congresswoman Slaughter for introducing this commonsense measure."
“As Americans, we trust our courts to apply the law without prejudice or favoritism. Lower court judges must abide by a code of judicial conduct to safeguard this trust, and the Justices of the Supreme Court should be no different. What this law does is simple: it guarantees that the Supreme Court is bound by a code of conduct and that the American people know what that code is,” said Coons, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary.