Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing Debates Ethics of Supreme Court Justices

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing Debates Ethics of Supreme Court Justices

( – A highly anticipated Senate Judiciary Committee hearing held Tuesday, May 2, 2023, was centered on ethics concerns raised when Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas omitted details of luxury travel destinations and dinners with a wealthy donor and family friend.

Both the panel of the committee and legal experts remain divided over the role Congress should play in enacting laws applied to justices’ non-judicial activities.

Senator Dick Durbin (D. Ill.), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, lobbed the first partisan volley as the hearing unfolded, “How low can the court go?” Sen. Durbin claimed that current standards “fall short” for the Justices and are lower than what Americans “expect of any public servant.”

Republican senators pushed back against imposing regulation upon the Supreme Court Justices, opposing mandatory compliance and legislation for independent oversight of ethics rules. However, there was bipartisan agreement about the needed transparency in the ethical guidelines and conduct practices the justices follow.

A public statement at the end of April, signed by all members of the Supreme Court, reaffirmed their commitment to “voluntary adherence” to their code of conduct and ethical practices.

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R. S.C.) claims the hearing is an attempt by the progressive left to undercut the “legitimacy of the Roberts court,” and reflects “selective outrage” when targeting the conservative majority the court now has. Graham added that he would propose that the justices meet the moment and “instill more public confidence” in their activities.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R. Texas) and John Cornyn (R. Texas) played footage at the hearing on Tuesday from 1991 of Justice Thomas’ original confirmation hearing, when the justice faced harassment accusations, showing Democrats engaging in similar “despicable tactics” thirty years later.

Given the current makeup and slim majority held in the Senate, it is unlikely legislation will be passed, despite a series of bills introduced intending to redesign ethical guidelines for the high court.

The public pressure the hearing and proposed legislation has on the justices may ultimately do the job of outlining ethics guardrails they have sworn to uphold without the need for Congress to step in with legislation.

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