Durbin Delivers Opening Statement During Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing On Supreme Court Ethics Reform

Durbin: “The highest court in the land should not have the lowest ethical standards. That reality is driving a crisis in public confidence in the Supreme Court. The status quo must change.”

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today delivered an opening statement during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled, “Supreme Court Ethics Reform.”  The hearing follows a steady stream of revelations calling Justices’ ethics standards and practices into question.  The hearing will emphasize the clear need for reform and examine common sense proposals to hold Justices to – at minimum – the same ethical standards as every other court and agency in the federal government. 

Key Quotes:

“Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee considers the issue of Supreme Court ethics reform.  Being a federal judge is a position of great honor and power.  But above all, it is public service… It is critical to our democracy that the American people have confidence that judges cannot be bought or influenced, and that they are serving the public interest and not their own personal interests.”

 “Over the course of several decades, Congress and the judicial branch have created a system of ethics laws and standards for federal judges that lay out the clear rules of the road.  These rules promote transparency and disclosure.  They place guardrails on conflicts of interest, provide mechanisms for investigation and enforcement, and ensure accountability for misconduct.  They strengthen faith in the fairness of the courts and the judges who serve on them.  We are here today because the Supreme Court of the United States of America does not consider itself bound by these rules.” 

“I invited the Chief Justice to join this conversation.  Last week, he sent me a letter declining to testify at today’s hearing and he said, ‘separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence.’  The reality is that sitting justices have testified at 92 Congressional hearings since 1960, and I even offered the Chief Justice the opportunity to designate someone else on the Court to testify.  But I’m more troubled by the suggestion that testifying to this Committee would somehow infringe on the separation of powers or threaten judicial independence.  In fact, answering legitimate questions from the people’s elected representatives is one of the checks and balances that helps preserve the separation of powers.”

“In his letter last week, the Chief Justice also sent what he called a ‘Statement on Ethics Principles and Practices.’  It was a document that was attached to his letter.  It is an extraordinary document, not in a good way.  It makes clear that, while the Justices are fine with consulting with certain authorities on how to address ethical issues, they do not feel bound by those same authorities… The Chief Justice’s letter and statement of principles are a defense of the status quo.  But they are oblivious to the obvious.”

“Last month, we learned about a Justice who for years has accepted lavish trips and real estate purchases worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from a billionaire with interests before the Court.  That Justice failed to disclose these gifts—and has faced no apparent consequences under the Court’s ethics principles.”

“We wouldn’t tolerate this from a city council member or an alderman.  It falls short of the ethical standards we expect of any public servant in America.  And yet the Supreme Court won’t even acknowledge it’s a problem.  The Chief Justice’s letter doesn’t mention it.” 

“Ethics cannot simply be left to the discretion of the nation’s highest court.  The Court should have a code of conduct with clear and enforceable rules so both Justices and the American people know when conduct crosses the line.” 

“The highest court in the land should not have the lowest ethical standards.  That reality is driving a crisis in public confidence in the Supreme Court.  The status quo must change.” 

“For those who might suggest that my concern is driven by judicial activism against the current Court’s conservative philosophy, I and other members of this Committee wrote the Chief Justice 11 years ago and urged the Court to adopt a code of conduct.” 

“The Supreme Court should step up and fix this themselves.  For years, they have refused.  And because the Court will not act, Congress must.”

Video of Durbin’s opening statement is available here. 

Audio of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s opening statement is available here for TV Stations.