Common Cause Urges Vote on SCOTUS Ethics Bill as Justices File Financials

Today, as Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are expected to file their financial disclosure reports, Common Cause is urging the full U.S. Senate to debate and vote on the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act (S. 359). In a letter today to Senate leadership, Common Cause emphasized that the lack of a binding code of ethics has led to a string of scandals involving unreported gifts and expensive vacations that have undermined public faith in the nation’s highest court.

The letter calls out numerous recent scandals involving Justices, including recent reporting by ProPublica revealing that for more than 20 years, Justice Clarence Thomas accepted luxury trips and extravagant gifts from a billionaire donor without reporting any of them on his personal financial disclosure forms.

“Americans expect and deserve an ethical and unbiased Supreme Court, but the conduct of a number of Justices has done very serious damage to the reputation of the Court in the eyes of the public,” said Virginia Kase Solomón, President and CEO of Common Cause. “The U.S. Supreme Court has proven time and time again that it is simply not capable of policing itself. The Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act would create a long-overdue code of ethics for the Supreme Court that is permanent and binding, and we urge the Senate to advance this legislation with haste.”

The letter notes that the Supreme Court voluntarily announced a non-binding and unenforceable code of conduct for itself last fall. But the letter points out that that code of conduct was announced as the Court found itself under increasing public and congressional scrutiny after the most recent ethics scandals were unearthed by the media.

“It is hard to get around the fact that the voluntary code of ethics was announced just days before the Senate Judiciary Committee was expected to vote to issue subpoenas to some of the wealthy donors who paid for the trips and gifts at the center of some of the recent Supreme Court scandals,” said Aaron Scherb, Common Cause Senior Director of Legislative Affairs. “It is long past time for half-measures, and Supreme Court Justices need to be held to binding and permanent ethical standards just like every other judge in the nation. Otherwise the scandals will continue, and public faith in the institution will be eroded still further.”

Common Cause first pointed out glaring ethical violations by the Supreme Court more than a decade ago when it exposed unreported travel by then-Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas. The research that led to those revelations also found that Justice Thomas for years had annually failed to report his wife’s income – much of it from highly political, conservative organizations.

The letter stresses that Supreme Court ethics should not be a partisan issue. It goes on to praise the Senate Judiciary Committee for passing the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act out of committee last year but emphasizes that much more must be done – beginning with a full Senate debate followed by a vote.

To read the full letter, click here.