(UnitedVoice.com) – In the United States, the federal judiciary is expected to follow a strict ethics code. It’s intended to prevent corruption and undue influence on the courts. However, the Supreme Court is not held to the same standard as the lower courts. It’s the only court in the nation that does not operate under a code of ethics.
That fact has been a point of contention for years. In 2019, Associate Justice Elena Kagan told Congress that the high court was working on a code of ethics, but that never happened. Now, the issue is, once again, front and center — and the chief justice isn’t willing to sit down with lawmakers.
Drama in SCOTUS
On April 20, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) invited Chief Justice John Roberts to appear at a hearing on May 2 at 10 a.m. to discuss Supreme Court ethics. The decision to hold a hearing came after bombshell ProPublica reports that revealed Associate Justice Clarence Thomas has been accepting gifts and luxury vacations from billionaire Harlan Crow. The justice did not disclose the trips, even though one of them cost more than half a million dollars.
For decades, Justice Clarence Thomas has secretly accepted luxury trips from a major Republican donor, newly obtained documents and interviews show.
The extent and frequency of these apparent gifts to Thomas has no known precedent in modern SCOTUS history… 🧵👇 pic.twitter.com/ROuGuyD6r6
— ProPublica (@propublica) April 6, 2023
Thomas didn’t deny accepting gifts and going on trips. Bloomberg reported the justice said he didn’t report them because Crow has been his friend for 25 years, and he was told he didn’t have to disclose trips with close friends and family. He also said the billionaire did not have any business in front of the court.
Critics pointed out the two only became friends after Thomas was on the court. However, Fortune recently revealed Crow did have at least one case in front of the justices.
The Senate hearing was intended to address the issues of ethics in the High Court.
On April 25, Roberts issued a statement declining the invitation from Durbin to testify in front of the committee. He said that testimony from the chief justice to Congress is “exceedingly rare” and pointed to the separation of powers and “judicial independence.” Roberts attached a Statement of Ethics Principles and Practices that he said all of the members of the court subscribe to.
Durbin followed up and issued his own statement acknowledging the chief justice’s decision to decline. He said the hearing on May 2 would go on as scheduled and made it clear, “Supreme Court ethics reform must happen whether the Court participates in the process or not.” The senator went on to say that he was surprised that Roberts recounted current legal standards of ethics while ignoring that Thomas’ trips on “yachts and private jets” were never disclosed.
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