1 of 3 | On Thursday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would create an ethical code of conduct for the Supreme Court, an initiative launched after recent revelations of lavish gifts given to justices, some over the course of many years. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo
July 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a bill that would create an ethical code of conduct for the Supreme Court. The vote was 11-10 along party lines.
All Democrats supported the code of ethics for the Supreme Court, while all 10 Republicans on the committee opposed it.
The ethics bill was triggered by disclosures originally reported by ProPublica that Justice Clarence Thomas had accepted undisclosed lavish gifts from billionaire Republican political donor Harlan Crow.
Subsequently, ProPublica also revealed that Justice Alito accepted valuable gifts in the form of lavish trips from another wealthy GOP donor.
Following those disclosures, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., made a push for a Supreme Court Code of Ethics.
"This legislation will be a crucial first step in restoring confidence in the court after a steady stream of reports of justices' ethical failures has been released to the public," Durbin said in a statement.
In a floor speech Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the bill is an "intimidation campaign by the left to undermine the court."
It was McConnell who helped to cement GOP-appointed conservative control of the court when he blocked a vote on the confirmation to the Supreme Court of Obama-appointed Merrick Garland.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said, "This is a bill not designed to make the court stronger or more ethical, but to destroy a conservative court."
The bill would create essentially the same ethics code for Supreme Court Justices as those that currently exist for lower court judges.
The bill advanced by the committee requires the Supreme Court to:
- Adopt a code of conduct for justices and establish procedures to receive and investigate complaints of judicial misconduct.
- Adopt rules governing the disclosure of gifts, travel, and income received by the justices and law clerks that are at least as rigorous as the House and Senate disclosure rules.
- Establish procedural rules requiring each party or amicus to disclose any gift, income, or reimbursement provided to Justices.
- Expands the circumstances under which a justice or judge must be disqualified.
- Requires the Supreme Court and the Judicial Conference to establish procedural rules for prohibiting the filing of or striking an amicus brief that would result in the disqualification of a justice, judge or magistrate judge.
The Supreme Court ethics bill would establish an Ethics Investigation Counsel serving four-year terms to "conduct investigations into potential violations of the code of conduct."
The bill says "The Ethics Investigation Counsel may be removed for cause by the Supreme Court of the United States."
In April, all nine Supreme Court Justices signed a statement on ethics principles and practices that they sent to Sen. Durbin to "reaffirm and restate foundational ethics principles and 3 practices to which they subscribe in carrying out their responsibilities as Members of the Supreme 4 Court of the United States."
That statement said, "The justices, like other federal judges, consult a wide variety of authorities to address specific ethical issues. They may turn to judicial opinions, treatises, scholarly articles, disciplinary decisions, and the historical practice of the court and the federal judiciary. They may also seek advice from the court's legal office and from their colleagues."
In April Chief Justice John Roberts refused an invitation to testify in the Senate about Supreme Court ethics standards and the lack of an ethics code.