Senate Republicans Block Butler and Judiciary Democrats’ Unanimous Consent Request To Pass Supreme Court Ethics Legislation

Washington, D.C. – This week, Senate Republicans blocked Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats’ unanimous consent (UC) request to pass the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act, legislation that the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced last July. The UC request was made by U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) along with U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Peter Welch (D-VT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). The UC request comes amid a myriad of apparent ethical lapses by Supreme Court justices, which demonstrate the need for ethics reform.

The SCERT Act would require Supreme Court justices to adopt a binding code of conduct, create a mechanism to investigate alleged violations of the code of conduct and other laws, improve disclosure and transparency when a justice has a connection to a party or amicus before the Court, and require justices to explain their recusal decisions to the public.

“This legislation is a critical step toward rebuilding trust between the public and the Supreme Court. It would ensure that all judges, no matter who they are, are also held to just standards of ethical conduct and transparency,” said Butler. “After the recent behavior of some Supreme Court Justices, it is clear we need to restore the public’s faith in America’s institutions. Our democracy depends on it.”

“This should not be a partisan issue. An enforceable code of conduct would be a good thing for the Court and for the country. It is essential to ensuring the American people have confidence in the ethical conduct of Supreme Court justices, and it is essential to restoring the Court’s reputation,” Durbin said. “Unfortunately, our Republican colleagues don’t see it this way. The highest court in the land should not—and cannot—have the lowest ethical standards. Chief Justice Roberts refuses to use his power to implement a binding code of conduct for Supreme Court justices. Until he does, Congress will continue our legislative efforts.”

“An overwhelming bipartisan majority of the American people want the Supreme Court held to a high ethical standard. So, why are members of a single party shielding justices from basic ethics processes and preventing the public from knowing the full extent of the justices’ extravagant, billionaire-funded vacations? The same far-right megadonors who paid to capture the Supreme Court through a gifts and influence program are also bankrolling Republicans’ campaigns. I am going to keep up the fight to expose and end the ongoing scheme to turn the branches of the federal government into utensils of the billionaire class,” said Whitehouse, who authored the SCERT Act.

“This Supreme Court is different than any other we’ve seen,” said Blumenthal. “And it’s not just two members of the Supreme Court – it is the institution as a whole that’s responsible, and it is the Chief Justice of the Court that is most responsible. This comprehensive judicial ethics legislation is long overdue, and my biggest regret as I stand on the floor of the Senate is that it is not bipartisan, because it should be.”

“Americans should be able to trust the integrity of our judiciary, but as the actions of some Supreme Court justices continue to undermine faith in our judiciary, Republicans have once again shown they are more interested in shielding these right-wing justices, than promoting transparency and ethics,” said Hirono. “The highest court in the land should be held to the highest ethical standards, and Senate Democrats will continue working to reform the Court and pass comprehensive judicial ethics legislation.”

“It is long past time we restore public faith in the Supreme Court by implementing an enforceable code of ethics — because unfortunately it’s clear that they’re not willing to police themselves,” said Padilla. “Regaining the public’s trust begins with peeling back the curtain and increasing ethical rules and transparency at the Court. Our democracy depends on it. But Republicans continue to refuse to get serious about these commonsense measures, undermining the trust of the American people once again.”

“The erosion of ethical norms at the Supreme Court is chipping away at the credibility of this institution and our democracy. Justices are engaging in conduct that creates the appearance of impartiality – from lavish all expenses-paid vacations to anti-democratic flag displays. Beyond this shocking behavior, they’re stripping constitutional rights and pushing extremist agendas. The SCERT Act would do what the Chief Justice has failed to do and get his Court in order,” said Welch. “Regretfully, powerful special interests were prioritized over this commonsense bill. It’s time for Republicans to put our democracy, not their donors, first.”

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