Republican blockade: Senate stalls ethics reform amid Supreme Court scandals

This move follows intense scrutiny of ethical lapses involving Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Efforts to pass a Supreme Court ethics reform bill hit a significant roadblock as Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, Senator Lindsey Graham, blocked the attempt to unanimously pass the legislation on Wednesday. This move follows intense scrutiny of ethical lapses involving Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.

Recent reports have cast a spotlight on the ethical practices of the Supreme Court, particularly involving Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Justice Alito faced backlash when the New York Times revealed that an upside-down American flag and an “Appeal to Heaven” flag were displayed outside his residences. Both flags have become symbols associated with the “Stop the Steal” movement following the January 6 Capitol riot. Alito claimed the flags were flown by his wife without knowing their controversial associations.

Justice Thomas, meanwhile, has been under fire for undisclosed luxury trips provided by billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow. Thomas recently amended his financial disclosure report to include two trips taken with Crow in 2019, stating the omissions were inadvertent. These revelations have heightened calls for stricter ethical standards for the nation’s highest court.

In response to these scandals, Senator Dick Durbin sought unanimous consent to pass an ethics bill introduced by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. The bill aims to establish a binding code of conduct for the Supreme Court, implement a mechanism to investigate ethics violations, and require more stringent disclosure of gifts, travel, and income.

However, Senator Lindsey Graham objected, stating, “This is not about improving the court. This is about undermining the court.” Graham argued that the bill represents an unconstitutional overreach that threatens the independence of the judiciary.

Senator Durbin countered, emphasizing the necessity of the bill given the Supreme Court’s ethical crisis. “The ethics crisis at the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, is unacceptable. It is unsustainable and it is unworthy of the highest court in the land,” Durbin remarked, noting that Supreme Court justices are the only federal officials not bound by an enforceable code of conduct.

The proposed legislation, spearheaded by Senator Whitehouse, seeks to address these ethical concerns by requiring the Supreme Court to adopt a binding code of conduct and establish a mechanism for investigating alleged violations. Additionally, the bill mandates stricter rules for the disclosure of gifts, travel, and income received by the justices and their law clerks. The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in a party-line vote last July but has faced significant opposition from Republicans.

The recent reports on Justices Alito and Thomas have reignited scrutiny of the Supreme Court’s ethics practices. Alito’s incident with controversial flags and Thomas’ undisclosed luxury trips have added to the mounting pressure on the Supreme Court to adopt formal ethics rules.

In response to these revelations, Fix the Court, an advocacy group, published a detailed database listing hundreds of gifts received by Supreme Court justices over the past two decades. The database revealed that justices have accepted gifts worth over $6.5 million, with Justice Thomas being the primary recipient.

Supporters of the ethics bill argue that it is essential to restore public trust in the judiciary by ensuring transparency and accountability. They point out that other federal officials are bound by strict ethics rules, and the Supreme Court should not be an exception.

Opponents, however, raise concerns about judicial independence and potential overreach by the legislative branch. They argue that imposing strict ethics rules on the Supreme Court could undermine its ability to function independently and make impartial decisions.

As public trust in the judiciary wanes, the call for transparency and accountability grows louder. Senator Durbin emphasized the need for immediate action, stating, “The ethics crisis at the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, is unacceptable. It is unsustainable and it is unworthy of the highest court in the land.”


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Alexandra Jacobo is a dedicated progressive writer, activist, and mother with a deep-rooted passion for social justice and political engagement. Her journey into political activism began in 2011 at Zuccotti Park, where she supported the Occupy movement by distributing blankets to occupiers, marking the start of her earnest commitment to progressive causes. Driven by a desire to educate and inspire, Alexandra focuses her writing on a range of progressive issues, aiming to foster positive change both domestically and internationally. Her work is characterized by a strong commitment to community empowerment and a belief in the power of informed public action. As a mother, Alexandra brings a unique and personal perspective to her activism, understanding the importance of shaping a better world for future generations. Her writing not only highlights the challenges we face but also champions the potential for collective action to create a more equitable and sustainable world.