Durbin Urges His Colleagues To Support Supreme Court Ethics Reform Legislation

Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee mark up and vote on Sen. Whitehouse’s Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today spoke on the Senate floor about the need for the Supreme Court to adopt an enforceable code of conduct.  Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will mark up and vote on Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-RI)Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act.  The bill would require Supreme Court Justices to adopt a code of conduct, create a mechanism to investigate alleged violations of the code of conduct and other laws, improve disclosure and transparency when a Justice has a connection to a party or amicus before the Court, and require Justices to explain their recusal decisions to the public.

“Just about every week now, we learn something new and deeply troubling about the Justices serving on the Supreme Court—the highest court in the land in the United States—and their conduct outside the courtroom,” Durbin said.  “Let me tell you, if I or any member of the Senate failed to report an all-expense paid luxury getaway or if we used our government staff to help sell books we wrote, we’d be in big trouble.  The same would be true for members of the House or Cabinet officials in any presidential administration.  That’s because all of us are subject to enforceable codes of conduct that prohibit us from using taxpayer funds for personal gain.  But the same, sadly, is not true for the nine Justices across the street.  Unlike every other federal official, Supreme Court Justices are not bound by a code of ethical conduct… They are the most powerful judges in the entire nation, and yet they are not required to follow even the most basic ethical standards.  It’s time for that to change.” 

Durbin continued, “Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee, which I chair, will consider legislation I have joined Senator Whitehouse in introducing known as the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act… I wish this legislation were unnecessary.  The fact is the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Roberts, could clean up the Supreme Court’s ethical challenges on his own.  And for years, I have encouraged him to do just that.  It was more than 11 years ago when I first urged the Chief Justice in writing to adopt a binding code of conduct.  But he didn’t accept my suggestion… So if we are set to restore the public trust in our nation’s high[est] court, we must begin by enacting legislation I’ve introduced with Senator Whitehouse… I hope every member of the Judiciary Committee on both sides of the aisle will vote tomorrow in support of the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act.”

Durbin went on to push back against arguments made on the floor earlier today by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) regarding Supreme Court ethics reform legislation. 

“We do not have the authority, nor are we ever trying to exercise the authority, to change or influence a judgment.  That is up to the Court itself.  But when it comes to the administration of the Court and the rules of administration, Congress has played an important role,” Durbin said.  “Senator McConnell described our concern about the ethical situation in the Court as a, ‘uptick in pearl-clutching and hysterics.’  That colorful term belies the fact that the things I described here are very basic and concern Americans of all political [backgrounds].” 

Durbin continued, “It’s the same old intimidation campaign by the left, according to Senator McConnell, to hold this hearing and consider a bill dealing with the ethics of the Supreme Court.  What he conveniently ignores is the fact that the first letter I sent to the Court on this subject was 11 years ago.  The Court’s changed dramatically in that period of time.  But my messages remain the same, whether the Court is dominated by liberals or conservatives or something in between.  That makes quite a difference in his argument.”

Durbin concluded, “He [McConnell] calls our effort ‘open disdain for a body that refuses to interpret the Constitution through the lens of their party’s platform.’  It is not open disdain.  It is a recognition that what’s going on at the Court is unsustainable.  What they’ve done— the conduct that has been disclosed already—has raised serious questions about the ethical standards of the Court.  We want to make sure that changes for the better, to maintain the independence of the Court.”

Video of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s floor speech is available here for TV Stations.

Durbin has been calling on the Supreme Court to adopt an enforceable code of conduct for more than a decade. He first sent a letter to the Chief Justice on this issue 11 years ago.