The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a series of stunning decisions overturning pro-Biden administration policies since 2021.
Significant rulings on gun control, the southern border, abortion and COVID mandates have angered Democrats, who have responded by attempting to reign in the Republican-leaning bench.
In addition to a minimally supported move to expand the bench, multiple Democrats have criticized justices for what they claim are questionable reporting habits — claiming a new “Code of Conduct” for justices is necessary to ensure members of the court are not unduly influenced by the public.
Justice Clarence Thomas, who has been outspoken in support of overturning Roe v. Wade, has been targeted and criticized for vacationing in the home and yacht of a longtime family friend, who is also a GOP donor.
Notably, several representatives, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), have called on Thomas to resign.
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are pushing justices to adopt a new “Code of Conduct.” Several Democratic senators released this statement:
The undersigned Justices are promulgating this Code of Conduct to set out succinctly and gather in one place the ethics rules and principles that guide the conduct of the Members of the Court.”
For the most part these rules and principles are not new: The Court has long had the equivalent of common law ethics rules, that is, a body of rules derived from a variety of sources, including statutory provisions, the code that applies to other members of the federal judiciary, ethics advisory opinions issued by the Judicial Conference Committee on Codes of Conduct, and historic practice.
The absence of a Code, however, has led in recent years to the misunderstanding that the Justices of this Court, unlike all other jurists in this country, regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules. To dispel this misunderstanding, we are issuing this Code, which largely represents a codification of principles that we have long regarded as governing our conduct.
The Code is said to have five primary components or Canons, with one component specifically referring to non-paid-for travel, even with decades-old school-era friends. The Code reads:
A Justice should not to any substantial degree use judicial chambers, resources, or staff to engage in activities that do not materially support official functions or other activities permitted under these Canons.
A Justice may accept reasonable compensation and reimbursement of expenses for permitted activities if the source of the payments does not give the appearance of influencing the Justice’s official duties or otherwise appear improper.
Expense reimbursement should be limited to the actual or reasonably estimated costs of travel, food, and lodging reasonably incurred by the Justice and, where appropriate to the occasion, by the Justice’s spouse or relative.
For some time, all Justices have agreed to comply with the statute governing financial disclosure, and the undersigned Members of the Court each individually reaffirm that commitment.
Fox News reported that Justices Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett in recent weeks had all publicly voiced support for a new ethics code.
Those critical of the Code of Conduct note that the only way to enforce it would be to amend the Constitution so Congress has authority over the Court, or to establish a panel of judges to review justice conduct. Neither option has strong support.
Last May Chief Justice Roberts issued a statement, signed by all nine members of the court, acknowledging more could be done to ensure justices “adhere to the highest ethical standards.”
Several high-ranking Republicans accuse Democrats of attempting to undermine the legitimacy and autonomy of the Court. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Democrats were leading “a concentrated effort” to delegitimize the conservative majority Supreme Court.”
Senator Graham added: “This is not about trying to update the ability of the court to be more transparent, it’s about an effort to destroy the legitimacy of this conservative court.”
Despite the Code’s deficiencies, on Monday the U.S. Supreme Court adopted a new Code of Conduct for justices drafted by Democrats on the Judiciary Committee.
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