The United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) declared the justices can monitor themselves despite contrary evidence. Justice Samuel Alito continues to push back against the Democratic lawmakers trying to establish ethics rules for the Court. According to the seventy-six-year-old justice, Congress cannot hold SCOTUS justices accountable because “they did not create the Supreme Court.”
In early July, Altio told The Wall Street Journal, “I know this is a controversial view, but I’m willing to say it…No provision in the Constitution gives them the authority to regulate the Supreme Court — period.” These comments emerged shortly after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on legislation requiring SCOTUS to “adopt a binding ethical code and create a mechanism to enforce it.” The bill passed along party lines, with Democrats 11 and Republicans 10.
Supporting the legislation, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) cited the public’s support of SCOTUS is at an all-time low. This bill, he said, is a “crucial first step in restoring confidence in the court, after a steady stream of reports of Justices’ ethical failures has been released to the public.”
Unfortunately, if the justice’s statement were accurate, then SCOTUS justices would not go through being vetted by the United States Senate using an official hearing.
During the committee meeting, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) pointed out the fallacious Republican complaints against his bill to overhaul ethics and transparency requirements for SCOTUS.
According to Politico, the Senator said, “The Court’s financial disclosure requirements are a law, passed by Congress; its recusal requirements are a law, passed by Congress; and the body that implements financial disclosure and code of conduct issues is the Judicial Conference, a body created by Congress.”
Responses to SCOTUS Justices
As one would expect, Alito’s statement did not sit well with court watchdogs, liberals, and legal scholars.
For example, Harvard University Professor Emeritus Laurence Tribe tweeted it was “absurd” that Congress cannot enforce ethics rules for SCOTUS justices and their staff.
In an upcoming New York Review of Books article, Tribe wrote, “Critics of the Supreme Court think it has lost its claim to legitimacy. But [reform proposals] must strike a balance…preserving its power and independence, which remain essential to our constitutional system.”
Senator Whitehouse complained that the justices have failed to implement any meaningful reforms of their own. Instead, SCOTUS remains supremely idle.
Additionally, Senator Durbin sought to make the effort sound more bipartisan, Politico authors Katherine Tully-McManus and Josh Gerstein wrote. He not only referenced both high-profile allegations but also lesser reported.
Another retort came from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). According to the Independent, she mocked Altio, “What a surprise, guy who is supposed to enforce checks and balances thinks checks shouldn’t apply to him.”
OAC continued, “Too Bad! Corruption and abuse of power must be stopped, no matter the source. In fact, the Court should be most subject to scrutiny, [because SCOTUS] is unelected and life appointed.”
Why Is Supreme Court Under Scrutiny?
Over several years, Americans have increasingly mounted verbal assaults on SCOTUS.
They question the Court’s decisions that overturned decades of precedence and supported unethical behavior.
According to Tribe, much of the “disrespect stems in part from ethical scandals but in part, too, from the vast gulf between this court’s substantive understanding of the Constitution,” he continued, “as well as its approach to the task of judging, and the vision of both those matters shared by the great majority of Americans.”
Tribe noted this growing consensus comes from liberal and conservative voices alike. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Sonia Sotomayor have earned the public’s scrutiny. Thomas and Altio are on the hot seat over their affiliations with billionaires who have had business before SCOTUS and will most likely again. Additionally, these men failed to report donations under the guise of travel on private jets and more.
Justice Sotomayer’s unethical behavior involves “taxpayer-funded court staff performing tasks for the justice’s book ventures, which workers in other branches of government are barred from doing.” Since SCOTUS does not have a code of ethics, they can do these things and more without repercussions.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
The New York Review: Constrain the Court—Without Crippling It; By Laurence H. Tribe [Full Article Here]
Politico: Alito: Congress can’t regulate Supreme Court ethics; By Josh Gerstein
Politico: Senate Judiciary moves SCOTUS ethics bill forward — toward a dim future; By Katherine Tully-McManus and Josh Gerstein
United States Courts: Code of Conduct for United States Judges [PDF]
AP: Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor’s staff prodded colleges and libraries to buy her books; By Brian Slodysko and Eric Tucker
Featured and Top Image by Tim Mossholder Courtesy of Unsplash
First Inset Image by Paul Morse for Office of White House Management Photography Office Courtesy of Wikipedia – Public Domain Image
Second Inset Image by Senate Judiciary Committee Courtesy of Wikimedia – Public Domain License
Third Inset Image by Fred Schilling Courtesy of the Supreme Court of the United States – Public Domain License