Another Ethics Crisis at the Supreme Court. Enough Is Enough.
What a difference a year makes. It’s hard to believe that just last April we were celebrating the historic confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Supreme Court.
Now, we’re grappling with revelations of yet another ethics crisis at the high court.
The recent reporting on Justice Clarence Thomas’s failure to disclose lavish gifts and vacations from a political donor and his response to the allegations is troubling to say the least. He even used to disclose these gifts, then stopped nearly 20 years ago after prior reporting on them. According to Justice Thomas though, he apparently was just taking trips “as friends do.”
All of this comes at a time when public trust of the Supreme Court is already at a historic low and there’s “hardly any” confidence in the high court. A time when the majority of Americans are losing faith in our democracy and the rule of law. We need a change.
We need an independent Supreme Court with justices committed to equal justice for all, who will decide cases fairly and impartially, and who hold themselves to the highest ethical standards of the judiciary and of the legal profession.
Our Supreme Court—and the federal judiciary as a whole—is supposed to be our politically independent branch of government. It’s why the framers ensured they’d have lifetime tenure. The framers knew we needed a Supreme Court that was not only free from bias, but free from the perception of bias for We the People to trust the court. At the moment, the latter is severely lacking.
It’s hard to trust in justices who receive undisclosed substantial financial benefits from political donors with business before the court and do not recuse themselves. It’s hard to trust in justices who may have leaked draft opinions about our reproductive rights. It’s hard to trust in justices who fail to see why and how their behavior erodes public trust in our courts. It’s hard to trust in a Supreme Court that provides the public with vague letters finding no wrongdoing whenever there are new reports of ethics violations.
We’ve asked the Supreme Court to adhere to a code of conduct, and years ago they told Congress one was coming, but they’ve dragged their feet for long enough. We can no longer afford to wait on the Supreme Court to hold themselves accountable.
The current ethics crisis at the court is bigger than just the recent reporting on Justice Thomas. It’s why we need Congress and the Executive Branch to fully fulfill our Constitution’s promise of checks and balances. Yes, we need Congress to investigate Justice Thomas’s reported ethics violations and we need the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate his alleged violations of public disclosure laws and hold him accountable—which you can call on them to do here.
But we also need Congress to mandate a strong, enforceable judicial code of conduct and maintain sustained oversight over the judiciary to prevent further eroding of public trust in our courts.
We commend the Senate Judiciary Committee for holding its “Supreme Court Ethics Reform” hearing. It’s an important step in the right direction to solve this crisis and Congress must act swiftly to hold our Supreme Court and the rest of the federal judiciary to the highest ethical standards. Congress must pass ethics legislation with a code of conduct for the Supreme Court, transparency measures, and an accountability mechanism to ensure the justices follow the ethics and recusal rules.
We need and deserve a judiciary that is fair, impartial, and committed to equal justice for all. A judiciary comprised of judges and justices who understand the real-world implications of their decisions on the lives of women and girls. And we’ll keep fighting for it.