Calls for Supreme Court ethics rules grow louder amid new revelations

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries tells theGrio that Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito "are engaging in problematic and ethically questionable behavior."

Activists, politicians and organizations continue to call on the Supreme Court to adopt a code of ethics following revelations that justices have crossed ethical lines — most recently Justice Samuel Alito.

On Thursday, Just Majority, a coalition of nonprofit organizations pushing for Supreme Court reform, and several congressional leaders held a joint press conference in front of the steps of the Supreme Court to demand the court expand the number of justices on the bench by four in an effort to restore justice. 

The Supreme Court
FILE – The Supreme Court is seen on April 21, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

The conference came after ProPublica broke the news on Tuesday that Justice Alito took a luxury fishing trip with a GOP billionaire who had cases before the court. In those instances, Alito failed to recuse himself, nor did he disclose the trip as required by law when justices receive most gifts.

At Thursday’s press conference, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said America’s democracy has been undermined by the justices. “[They refuse] to hold themselves to the same standards and ethical conduct that all lower court judges must follow,” he continued. 

U.S. Senator Tina Smith, D-Minn., who was also in attendance, said the highest court in the land is “broken.”

“The Supreme Court has an essential constitutional role in our democracy, but today it has become too powerful and political,” she said. “It is doing the work of the extremist right-wing conservatives and anti-choice activists and big corporate interests.” 

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries told theGrio during his Thursday weekly press conference that “the only people who apparently believe they are above the law are members of the United States Supreme Court.” He added that Democratic members of Congress are working to restore order in the court. 

“Senate Democrats under the leadership of Dick Durbin and others in the Democratic conference are working hard to bring some accountability to an out-of-control right-wing Supreme Court,” Jeffries previously told theGrio.

He continued, “[Justices like Clarence Thomas] are engaging in problematic and ethically questionable behavior…that is problematic for the country.”

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 28: A mobile billboard showing Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts is seen outside the U.S. Capitol on April 28, 2023 in Washington, DC. Government watchdog Accountable.US is holding Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts accountable for his inaction following recent ethics issues among the Court. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Accountable.US)

In recent months, it was revealed that Chief Justice John Roberts’ wife earned millions of dollars after helping high-ranking lawyers who later had cases heard before Supreme Court justices. Justice Clarence Thomas neglected to disclose lavish gifts he received from a wealthy GOP donor. And just days after Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation, a law firm acquired property in which Gorsuch held a stake, as theGrio previously reported.

These questionable actions have left some Americans wondering if the court is fair and just, given the justices’ powerful roles as arbiters who determine the outcome of any given case before them.

Last week, the Senate heard testimony from social justice organizations about the need for the Supreme Court to adopt a code of ethics. This marks the third time this year Senate Democrats have listened to arguments that support why the court needs to uphold checks and balances. 

Donald Sherman, executive vice president and chief counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, testified before the Senate in the latest hearing. He told theGrio that the Supreme Court needs to abide by ethical rules.

During his testimony, he urged congressional members “to address the glaring problems in the Supreme Court’s ethics regime by passing the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act.” He argued that it “would bring needed transparency and accountability to the Supreme Court’s recusal framework.”

Members of the Supreme Court sit for a new group portrait following the addition of Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, at the Supreme Court building in Washington, Friday, Oct. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sherman added, “It is far past time that the highest court in our constitutional system is held to the highest ethical standards.” 

He told theGrio that one of the biggest issues with the court is that “they feel entitled to sit even when they have a conflict of interest.” The justices, who have lifetime appointments, “want to have their cake and eat it too,” he said.

Sheman also noted that Republicans in Congress did not attend last week’s hearing. “It was interesting that none of the Republican senators showed up,” he said. 

Jeffries told theGrio that the Supreme Court’s ethical problem is not a bipartisan issue. However, he has little faith that his Republican colleagues will condemn the justices’ conduct.

We’re not holding our breath in terms of whether the extreme MAGA Republicans in the House are going to do anything to hold the right-wing majority of the Supreme Court accountable in any way, shape, or form,” said Jeffries. “So ultimately, this issue may have to get litigated before the American people.”

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