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Warren, Jayapal Want to Crack Down on Supreme Court Justices’ Gifts and Travel

Their new bill would place a cap on the value of gifts that Supreme Court justices are allowed to receive.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks during a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on May 3, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

Amid numerous scandals that have revealed the deep corruption on the Supreme Court bench, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) have reintroduced a bill seeking to reverse the relative impunity that Supreme Court justices enjoy and enact a set of binding ethical rules.

The Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act would ensure that, like every other federal court in the nation, the Supreme Court is legally bound to a code of ethics — a provision that has become a rallying call for Democrats and progressives in recent years.

Under the bill, the monetary value of gifts that Supreme Court justices are allowed to receive would be capped, and oversight for justices attending privately funded events would be increased. This is especially germane to the controversy around Justice Clarence Thomas, who commentators and legal experts have said has repeatedly broken disclosure laws, but who seems to be facing no legal consequences with zero apparent will to curb this sort of corruption from Chief Justice John Roberts.

The bill would also create a number of other boundaries, like banning federal judges from owning individual stocks, creating more transparency in Supreme Court justices’ recusal decisions, and making it easier for Supreme Court justices to face public complaints or be impeached.

“It’s simple: A system without basic ethics is a corrupt system,” Jayapal said in a statement. “Public trust in the Supreme Court is at record lows, and it’s not difficult to understand why. As the country’s highest Court is plagued by scandal after scandal, it’s clear that we can no longer stand by as judges and justices take advantage of their position to build wealth and power at the expense of our country. We deserve an impartial Court that isn’t beholden to special interests and personal agendas.”

The bill, which Warren and Jayapal first introduced last year, has been cosponsored by seven senators, including Senators Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), and 35 House representatives, including progressives like Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan).

Tlaib said that the legislation is needed because Supreme Court justices are out of control and “unhinged.”

“It’s outrageous that the Supreme Court is the only court in the nation not subject to a binding code of conduct,” said Tlaib. “As a result, the Supreme Court’s mounting ethics scandals are rapidly eroding its legitimacy, and the Court is in urgent need of anti-corruption reform. This far-right, unhinged Supreme Court has secretly been accepting lavish trips and payments from billionaire Republican megadonors while stripping away our rights and legislating from the bench.”

The legislation was unveiled alongside polling from Data for Progress finding broad support for the bill. A whopping 90 percent of voters support binding the Supreme Court to a code of ethics, the polling found, while 73 percent of respondents said they believe that the Supreme Court needs to be subject to more oversight in general. Meanwhile, a majority of 57 percent believe that Supreme Court justices should not be allowed to own stocks that would pose a potential conflict of interest.

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