Judiciary Committees Urged to Call Justice Thomas as a Witness in Supreme Court Ethics Hearings

Today, Common Cause urged the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to call Justice Clarence Thomas as a witness in hearings to examine Supreme Court ethics in the wake of the latest scandal to engulf the nation’s highest court. Recent reporting by ProPublica revealed that for more than two decades Justice Thomas failed to report luxury gifts and vacations he received from billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow.

Common Cause also asked the committees to seriously consider calling Chief Justice John Roberts to testify on the state of Supreme Court ethics. Over the years, the Chief Justice has repeatedly rejected calls for a Supreme Court code of ethics and has staunchly defended the Justices ability to police their own conduct. Judges serving on all other federal courts below the Supreme Court must adhere to a code of conduct that requires them to avoid even the “appearance of impropriety.”

“Americans expect and deserve a fair and impartial Supreme Court and we need transparency in order to identify potential conflicts and to restore public trust in our nation’s highest court,” Common Cause co-president Marilyn Carpinteyro said. “The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly proven itself incapable of policing itself without a code of ethics. It is time for Congress to hold hearings and pass legislation to establish a code of ethics for Supreme Court Justices to hold them to the same standards as every other federal judge in the nation. Ensuring transparency, impartiality, and accountability for Supreme Court Justices is not and should not be a partisan issue.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee has already announced that it will hold hearings on Supreme Court ethics, and Common Cause called on the House Judiciary Committee to follow suit.

The letters to the committees point out Common Cause’s long history of supporting comprehensive efforts to enforce and strengthen judicial ethics because it goes to the heart of upholding the rule of law. The organization has supported legislation such as the Supreme Court Ethics Act; the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act; and the Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act to ensure that the Supreme Court is bound by a judicial code of conduct like all other courts in the United States.

In 2011, after Common Cause initially discovered that Justice Thomas’ financial disclosure forms were incomplete, the Associate Justice amended 21 years’ worth of returns. Additionally, following a 2011 article by the New York Times detailing Justice Thomas’ close relationship with Harlan Crow, Common Cause wrote to the Judicial Conference of the United States to ask it to examine whether Justice Thomas failed to comply with the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 and whether the Department of Justice should investigate.

To read the letter to the House Judiciary Committee, click here.

To read the letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, click here.