Merkley, Wyden, Colleagues Introduce Bicameral Bill Requiring SCOTUS to Follow Code of Ethics

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and
Ron Wyden joined their Senate and House colleagues to introduce the Supreme
Court Ethics Act
, requiring the Judicial Conference of the United States to
create a code of ethical conduct for the Supreme Court of the United States.
The legislation would also require the appointment of an Ethics Investigations
Counsel and require justices to publicly disclose recusal decisions.

“The Supreme Court is making life-altering decisions
threatening Americans’ reproductive rights, workers’ bargaining power, voting
rights, clean air, and so much more—yet, unlike other federal judges, they have
no restrictions on their conflicts of interest,” said Senator Merkley.
“Strengthening the code of ethics for the Supreme Court protects our democracy
and helps ensure that the highest court in our ‘We the People’ democracy works
for the people, not just the powerful.”

“The highest ethical standards and our nation’s highest
court must go hand in hand,” Wyden said. “This legislation ensuring that
happens by applying the same code of ethics to the nine justices that all other
federal judges live by would give all Americans confidence that Supreme Court
decisions are free from conflicts of interest.”

The Supreme Court Ethics Act would:

  • Create a statutory requirement for the Judicial Conference
    of the United States to issue a code of conduct that applies to the Supreme
  • Direct the Supreme Court to appoint an Ethics Investigations
    Counsel who will establish a process for the public to report information about
    potentially unethical conduct by the Justices and to issue a public annual
    report on the disposition of allegations and investigations;
  • Empower the Ethics Investigations Counsel to conduct their
    own investigations into potential violations of the code of conduct;
  • Require Justices who recuse themselves from a case to
    publicly disclose the reason;
  • Require Justices who deny a proper motion to recuse to
    publicly disclose the reason.

This legislation was led by U.S. Senator Chris Murphy
(D-Conn.) and U.S. Representative Hank Johnson (D-Ga.). Alongside Wyden and
Merkley, the bill was cosponsored by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.),
Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Ed Markey
(D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sherrod Brown
(D-Ohio), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Catherine Cortez Masto
(D-Nev.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), John Fetterman (D-Pa.), Dianne Feinstein
(D-Calif.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ben Ray Luján
(D-N.M.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen
(D-N.H.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Chris Van Hollen

“Every federal judge is bound by a code of ethics – except
for the nine who sit on the highest court in the country. Trust in the Supreme
Court is at a historic low because the American people see justices hide their
conflicts of interest and openly engage in political behavior. This legislation
would help restore some lost faith by requiring the Judicial Conference to
create a code of ethics for Supreme Court justices. It’s a simple, non-partisan
solution to increase transparency, enforce accountability, and start to rebuild
public confidence in the Court,” said Sen. Chris Murphy.

“This isn’t a conservative-liberal justice problem – it’s an
American Democracy [capital D] problem when the court regularly faces
challenging ethical questions, and because of their crucial and prominent role,
the justices receive intense public scrutiny for their choices,” said Rep.
Hank Johnson, ranking member of the House Judiciary subcommittee on courts.
we read more and more about the dealing of the court, it continues to show us
what’s going on behind the curtain, more and more of my colleagues on both
sides of the aisle will be calling for justices to bind themselves to a code of

“The Supreme Court of the Unites States ought to be the
embodiment of objectivity. As reports of ethically questionable behavior by
Justices continue to surface, Congress must close the inexcusable ‘Supreme
Court loophole’ in federal judicial ethics rules by creating and enforcing a
code of ethics for Supreme Court Justices. The Supreme Court Ethics Act is a
common sense step that we can take to ensure impartiality in deliberations,
help reverse the troubling trajectory of public trust in the Court, and hold
its Justices to the highest of ethical standards,” said Durbin, chair of the
U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

Text of the bill is here.

A one-pager providing further details about the bill is
available here.