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Durbin Delivers Opening Statement Ahead of Supreme Court Ethics Reform Vote

This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to advance Sen. Whitehouse’s Supreme Court Ethics, Transparency, and Recusal Act of 2023

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, delivered an opening statement ahead of an expected vote to advance Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-RI) Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act to the full Senate.

The bill would require Supreme Court Justices to adopt a 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.

Key Quotes:

“It was 11 years ago – and a very different Supreme Court – when I first called on Chief Justice Roberts to adopt a binding code of conduct for all Supreme Court Justices. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on a bill that would finally bring Supreme Court Justices’ ethics requirements in line with virtually every other public servant in the federal government.”

“This legislation will be 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. The public support for the Supreme Court is at an all-time low.”

“The past several months have seen a steady stream of news reports highlighting ethical failures by the highest court in the land … the Supreme Court Justices appointed by both Republican and Democratic Presidents … Justice Clarence Thomas traveled the world on billionaire Harlan Crow’s yacht and private jet … Justice Samuel Alito took an all-expenses-paid luxury fishing trip to Alaska … Justice Sonia Sotomayor used her tax-funded court staff to push additional sales of her books in conjunction with speaking engagements … If any of the Senators – or even the staff members – sitting in this room were involved in similar activities, they would be in violation of the ethical rules that govern Congress.”

“Unlike every other federal official, Supreme Court Justices are not bound by a code of ethical conduct. They are the most powerful judges in America. And yet, they are not required to follow even the most basic ethical standards. The SCERT Act we are considering would change that.”

“Historians and legal scholars from across the political spectrum agree that legislation imposing a code of conduct on the Supreme Court is both necessary and well within Congress’s authority.”

“Members of this Committee on both sides of the aisle have long led efforts to make the Supreme Court more accountable and transparent … In 2021, our colleague Senator Cornyn, along with our colleague Senator Coons introduced the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, which required all federal judicial officers – including Supreme Court Justices – to file disclosures of certain securities transactions, just like members of Congress … Two years ago, this Committee, with the support of five Republican Senators, favorably reported Cameras in the Courtroom Act, a bipartisan bill that I have long introduced with Senator Grassley, and which would require the Supreme Court to permit television coverage of all [open] sessions of the Court with only limited exceptions.”

“Some have suggested that Democrats are pursuing Supreme Court ethics reforms to target the Court’s current rightwing majority. Far from it. The reforms we are proposing would apply in equal force to all nine Justices.”

Video of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s opening statement is available here for TV Stations.