-By Ian Millhiser
June 23, 2011- ThinkProgress has obtained a draft letter Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT) circulated this morning to his fellow members of Congress asking the House Judiciary Committee’s leadership to hold a hearing on the Supreme Court Transparency and Disclosure Act, a bill that will end the Supreme Court’s immunity to judicial ethics laws. As Murphy’s letter explains, his bill addresses the bevy of recently revealed ethics scandals involving members of the Supreme Court, including the Clarence Thomas gifting scandal:
There have been alarming reports of justices – most notably Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito – attending political events and using their position to fundraise for organizations. These activities would be prohibited if the justices were required to abide by the Judicial Conference Code of Conduct, which currently applies to all other federal judges. On these issues the code is quite clear. Canon 4C states that “a judge should not personally participate in fund-raising activities, solicit funds for any organization, or use or permit the use of the prestige of the judicial office for that purpose.” Additionally, in Canon 5 the code states, “[a] judge must refrain from all political activity.” While we understand that the Supreme Court is unique by its very nature, we do not believe there should be one set of guidelines for Supreme Court justices and stricter standards for all others judges.
The Supreme Court possesses the incredible power to interpret or even strike down laws they deem inconsistent with the Constitution. America trusts them with this power because justices must come to each case without a personal or financial stake in the outcome. Recent revelations about Justice Thomas accepting tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from individuals and organizations who often have an interest in matters before the courts calls into question the Court’s impartiality. Canon 4D of the Code of Conduct incorporates regulations providing that “[a] judicial officer or employee shall not accept a gift from anyone who is seeking official action from or doing business with the court.” Yet Justice Thomas received a gift valued at $15,000 from an organization that had a brief pending before his Court at the very moment they gave him the gift. Incidents such as these undermine the integrity of the entire judiciary, and they should not be allowed to continue.
In a message attached to the draft letter, Murphy asks his colleagues to join him in signing his request for “Judiciary Committee hearing on the alarming number of reports of possible unethical conduct by Supreme Court justices.” You can read Rep. Murphy’s full draft letter requesting a hearing on Think Progress.