House Judiciary Committee Passes Supreme Court Ethics Legislation

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday passed legislation to address the growing ethics crisis at the United States Supreme Court.

The “Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act of 2022” (H.R. 7647) would require the Supreme Court to create a code of conduct that would apply to both the justices and their employees, ensuring that justices cannot pick and choose their ethical obligations without being bound by a single, uniform code.

Recent ethical lapses by justices, including concerns about Justice Clarence Thomas and cases related to the House investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol Building, underscores the need for this legislation.

Backers argued the measure, passed on a 22-16 vote along party lines, would impose limits on the Supreme Court justices, such as new recusal standards for when a judge should not sit on a case because of a conflict. 

The bill also would require the creation of a code of conduct for Supreme Court justices and a new code of conduct for all federal judges, among other provisions.

Committee Chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, said there was a “growing and persistent ethics crisis” at the Supreme Court. Nadler pointed to the fact that justices can receive gifts, expensive vacations and other compensation without disclosing it or facing consequences when they do not recuse themselves from a case where they have a conflict.

“Every member of Congress is subjected to a code of conduct, as is every other federal judge, every district judge, every circuit judge, even entry level employees in the executive branch are subject to more stringent ethics requirements than the Justices of the Supreme Court,” Nadler said.

Republicans, led by ranking member Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, cast the bill as an attack on a Supreme Court,  currently controlled by a 6-3 conservative majority.

“Don’t let them fool you. This isn’t about ethics, this is an insurance policy for them when things don’t go their way, they want to have the tools at their disposal to make life hard for the justices,” Jordan said.

“It is shocking that any member of Congress would be opposed to strengthening the integrity of the Supreme Court by asking the Court to create a code of ethics that is consistent with those followed by other public officials,” continued Chairman Nadler. “Republicans on this committee have voted against greater accountability and transparency at one of our nation’s most secretive, but consequential, institutions.”

The bill also includes provisions aimed to create more transparency of who is behind amicus briefs filed at the court, and require the Supreme Court to set rules for disclosing gifts and income that justices and law clerks receive.

The bill would also increase recusal requirements for all federal judges. They would also have to recuse themselves when a party that supported their nomination or appointment or gave them a gift is before them in a case.

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