As Democrats fumble to enact measures to rein in the far right Supreme Court in response to the justices overturning Roe v. Wade, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) is reiterating her call to finally bind Supreme Court justices to a code of ethics.
Supreme Court justices are the only federal judges in the country who don’t have a binding code of ethics; while the justices theoretically follow ethics guidelines, they are not required by law to do so.
“Today would be a great day to start making Supreme Court justices follow a basic code of ethics,” Warren said on Wednesday. “I’ve got a plan for that – as part of my bill for a judicial ethics overhaul.”
In May, after a leaked draft opinion showed that the High Court was poised to overturn Roe, Warren and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) introduced a bill that would require justices to adhere to the court’s existing Code of Conduct. The bill would also bar federal judges from trading individual stocks, place restrictions on gifts and privately funded travel that justices could accept, and generally increase transparency standards for the Court.
Advocates for a binding code of conduct say that it could help to prevent justices from following their political beliefs above the law. They also say that it could increase transparency in cases like Justice Clarence Thomas’s refusal to recuse himself from cases involving his wife and her participation in the attempted overturn of the 2020 election.
According to Fix the Court, every one of the justices, with the exception of Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was just sworn in, has violated the code in some way – whether by ruling on cases in which they have a conflict of interest, leaving assets off of financial disclosure forms or speaking at partisan fundraisers.
“We can no longer stand by while our judges and justices take advantage of our system to build wealth and power at the expense of our country’s most marginalized. A system without basic ethics is a corrupt system,” Jayapal said in a press release on the bill she and Warren have put forth. “People deserve impartial judges and justices who aren’t beholden to special interests or to their personal agenda. Nobody is above the law. Not even a Supreme Court Justice.”
Binding the Supreme Court to a code of ethics is a popular idea. In April, before the unpopular and cruel Dobbs v. Jackson decision came down, a Data for Progress poll found that 81 percent of likely voters agree that the Supreme Court should be held to a code of ethics that would require justices to recuse themselves from cases that they may have a personal or financial stake in.
Another poll taken after the Dobbs decision by Politico/Morning Consult similarly found that a majority of Americans agree that the Supreme Court should be legally bound to an ethics code, and that they also support other reforms like term limits for justices.
Other lawmakers have suggested other ways to combat the Supreme Court, which is poised to rule on yet more cases that could fundamentally change the country and the rights that are afforded to its people. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Ted Lieu (D-California) are calling for the Senate to formally state whether or not far right Supreme Court justices lied about Roe in order to get confirmed – which Ocasio-Cortez says is an impeachable offense.
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