This is about the 10th time that this has come up. So far, every bill that tried to go through was derailed. This will be another attempt to reign in the corrupted SCOTUS. Will it work? It’s anyone’s guess.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is trying to use Congress’ spending power as a way to force the Supreme Court to adopt a code of ethics, the Washington Post reported Monday, as the court has been widely criticized for not having a binding ethics code in light of justices’ perceived conflicts of interest.
Van Hollen, who oversees the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that controls the Supreme Court’s budget, told the Post he plans to use a congressional spending bill to persuade the court to adopt a binding code of ethics.
While federal judges in lower courts are bound by a code of ethics that bars conflicts of interest and other potential issues, Supreme Court justices do not have any such restrictions, which has become heavily controversial.
It’s not clear yet exactly how Van Hollen’s efforts would work, but the Post notes that similar efforts in the past have put language into spending bills that says part of the funding an agency receives can only be used if they do something that lawmakers want, like imposing a code of ethics.
Whether or not Van Hollen’s plan can pass remains to be seen—it would also have to pass the Republican-controlled House, and the Post reports key GOP lawmakers are “noncommittal” on the proposal, including Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), who oversees the House subcommittee that controls the Supreme Court’s budget in that chamber.
The Supreme Court has not yet responded to a request for comment.
The Supreme Court’s “refusal to adopt such standards has contributed to eroding public confidence in the highest court in the land,” Van Hollen said in a statement to the Post. “It is unacceptable that the Supreme Court has exempted itself from the accountability that applies to all other members of our federal courts, and I believe Congress should act to remedy this problem.”
$200 million. That’s how much the Supreme Court has requested in federal funding from Congress for the 2024 fiscal year, the Post notes, which could be affected by Van Hollen’s efforts. The request includes the court’s general operations, but also an additional $5.9 million in funding for security expenses as justices have faced increased threats following controversial rulings like overturning Roe v. Wade.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The 2024 fiscal year starts October 1 and lawmakers will likely start considering spending proposals “in the next few months,” the Post notes. In addition to the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Susan Collins (D-Maine) told the Post she believes this should be an issue for the Senate Judiciary Committee to take up, so moving forward may also depend on what that committee decides. Committee chair Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) expressed openness to the idea to the Post, however, saying he thinks the code of ethics is “long overdue.”
The Supreme Court’s lack of a code of ethics has become a major point of contention in recent months, as the 6-3 conservative court has garnered widespread controversy for perceived ethical conflicts. Justice Clarence Thomas has sparked widespread criticism stemming from his wife Ginni Thomas’ right-wing political activism, which has presented potential conflicts of interest, and other justices have raised scrutiny by socializing with right-wing figures and appearing at conservative events, among other issues. The American Bar Association passed a resolution in February calling on the court to adopt a code of ethics, and more than two dozen legal ethics scholars previously wrote a letter in support of a code in March 2022. Justices have said in the past that they try to follow the code of ethics for lower judges, even if they aren’t legally bound by it, and the Post previously reported the court has been actively discussing imposing a code of ethics for at least four years, but still hasn’t been able to impose one or decided if they will. Van Hollen’s efforts come as Democratic lawmakers have already tried to pass legislation that would force a code of ethics onto the court, but those efforts have so far failed.