A pair of legislators are warning SCOTUS that it’s time to get the court’s proverbial house in order and examine claims that justices have failed to meet ethical standards, both by leaking rulings to interested parties in advance of formal release, and by allowing parties to “woo” them in effort to influence rulings.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Courts Subcommittee and Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) is his counterpart on the House Judiciary Courts Subcommittee.
When their powers combine — well, they write a strongly-worded letter and warn that even a Supreme Court Justice can be held accountable for a blatant breach of ethics.
In this case, they’re dealing with the recent revelation from a former evangelical minister, Rob Schenck.
Schenck says he made a hefty contribution to the Supreme Court Historical Society and was subsequently invited to the home of Justice Samuel Alito for dinner, where the conversation included advance notice of the 2014 Hobby Lobby decision.
Alito has denied this, but Whitehouse and Johnson are warning the court that it needs to implement ethical standards, including rules about accepting gifts, donations, and other perks and privileges from parties in or close to a case.
This, of course, comes as Justice Clarence Thomas is also under fire for failing to recuse himself from cases that may connect to his wife, Ginny Thomas.
“A Supreme Court ethics attorney replied on Roberts’ behalf earlier this month, recounting some of the court’s policies and practices in the area, but offering no specifics about the lobbying drive…The court has not commented on Schenck’s letter or whether any investigation was conducted into the 2014 leak…”
In the previous letter, dated September 7th, and recently released by Whitehouse, the lawmakers warned:
“Private, undisclosed lobbying by motivated organizations threatens this promise, and has no place in our judiciary. Such lobbying should be expressly forbidden by a formal Supreme Court ethics code—as it appears to be under the Code of Conduct for United States Judges13—and the justices’ financial disclosures should provide enough transparency for the public to know when they may be overstepping these boundaries.”
Whitehouse further shared this month regarding the new warning to justices:
“The Court needs to get its house in order and adopt a binding code of ethics, just as the lower courts have, and bring its travel and gift disclosure rules in line with the other branches of government. When the American people get their day in court, they must be able to trust that the decision handed down is justly rooted in law and fact – not the wishes of right-wing political groups and megadonors who purchased access to wine and dine the justices.
Steph Bazzle covers politics and theocracy, always aiming for a world free from extremism and authoritarianism. Follow Steph on Twitter @imjustasteph.