Majority of Americans demand Supreme Court ethics investigations

A recent poll reveals overwhelming support for stricter ethical oversight of Supreme Court justices, transcending political lines.

Image Credit: Shawn Thew/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

A recent Economist/YouGov poll reveals that a significant majority of Americans, across political lines, support stronger enforcement mechanisms to hold Supreme Court justices accountable for ethical issues. Conducted from June 16-18, the poll shows that nearly 7 in 10 Americans (69 percent) back the implementation of a formal ethics code that would allow for investigations of justices accused of highly unethical actions. Only 14 percent opposed the idea.

The poll also highlights the Supreme Court’s current low approval rating, with only 35 percent of respondents giving the institution positive marks and 50 percent expressing disapproval. One of the main reasons for this low approval rating appears to be the perception that justices are abusing the Court’s ethics rules, which allow them to decide for themselves whether or not they should recuse from a case.

Support for a formal ethics code transcends political ideology, with 84 percent of Democratic-leaning voters, 64 percent of independents, and 58 percent of Republican voters in favor of the proposal. This broad support underscores the growing demand for accountability and transparency within the highest court in the United States.

Several high-profile controversies have intensified these calls for stricter ethics rules. Justice Samuel Alito faced scrutiny after an upside-down U.S. flag was placed outside his home shortly after the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Additionally, the Alito vacation home in New Jersey displayed an “Appeal to Heaven” flag, associated with far-right Christian nationalist groups, during the summer of 2023. Alito blamed his wife for flying the flags, but legal experts questioned the relevance of this explanation to his potential biases in future rulings.

Justice Clarence Thomas has also been embroiled in controversy after revelations that he received millions of dollars in undisclosed gifts from right-wing billionaire benefactors with political agendas before the Court. These issues have raised significant concerns about the impartiality of the justices and their adherence to ethical standards.

In response to these controversies, the Supreme Court established ethics rules last fall requiring justices to step aside from cases when their “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” However, these rules are self-enforcing, allowing justices to decide whether they should recuse themselves, a standard criticized for its leniency.

Democrats on the House Oversight Committee recently sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, questioning the effectiveness of the current rules in maintaining respect and trust in the Supreme Court. The letter, authored by Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), cited the Alito and Thomas controversies as evidence of the Court’s unwillingness to ensure justices abide by ethical standards.

“You have repeatedly asked Congress and the American people to trust Justices of the Supreme Court to police their own conduct…Yet, over the past year, revelations by investigative reporters and Senate investigators have established that certain Justices have abused that trust,” the letter stated. It also questioned the steps Chief Justice Roberts is taking to investigate these episodes of political bias and lack of disclosure.

The broader implications of these controversies are profound, highlighting the need for a more robust system of accountability to maintain public trust in the judicial system. The poll results demonstrate that Americans overwhelmingly support reforms to ensure that Supreme Court justices are held to the highest ethical standards.

As discussions about judicial reform continue, the focus remains on creating a system that upholds the integrity of the Supreme Court and ensures that all justices are held accountable for their actions. Reforms may include the implementation of a formal ethics code and the establishment of independent mechanisms for investigating ethical breaches.

The strong public support for Supreme Court ethics investigations reflects a broader desire for accountability and transparency within the judiciary. As the nation grapples with these issues, the push for reform continues to gain momentum, aiming to restore faith in one of the most critical institutions in American democracy.

The recent controversies involving Justices Alito and Thomas are not isolated incidents but part of a larger pattern of ethical concerns within the Supreme Court. These issues have prompted lawmakers, advocacy groups, and the public to call for significant changes to how the Court polices itself.

Justice Samuel Alito’s flag controversy began just days after the January 6 attack, when an upside-down U.S. flag was placed outside his Washington, D.C. home. Such flags were symbols of support for Trump and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. In the summer of 2023, Alito’s vacation home in New Jersey displayed an “Appeal to Heaven” flag, used by far-right Christian nationalist groups and seen at the Capitol attack. Alito attributed the flag displays to his wife, an explanation met with skepticism by legal experts.

Justice Clarence Thomas has faced scrutiny for receiving millions of dollars in extravagant gifts from right-wing billionaire benefactors who have political agendas before the Court. These undisclosed gifts have raised significant concerns about Thomas’s impartiality and adherence to ethical standards.

The Supreme Court’s existing ethics rules, established last fall, require justices to recuse themselves from cases when their impartiality might reasonably be questioned. However, these rules are self-enforcing, meaning the justices themselves decide whether they should recuse. This system has been criticized for its leniency.


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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.