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Monday, July 1, 2024 | Back issues
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House Dems urge Senate to open formal investigation into Alito over flag scandal, demand justices testify

Both Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts have so far resisted calls to meet with lawmakers as well as demands to implement an enforceable code of ethical conduct at the high court.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A pair of House Democrats on Wednesday urged their Senate colleagues to open a formal investigation into Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito amid a stream of ethical malfeasance at the court.

“This is a five-alarm fire that is consuming our democracy, if we let it,” said Georgia Representative Hank Johnson during an event held on the steps of the Supreme Court. “We need all hands on deck.”

Johnson, an advocate for court reform and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee’s courts subpanel, was joined by Washington Representative Pramila Jayapal and representatives from a smattering of judicial advocacy groups including MoveOn and Stand Up America.

Jayapal blasted Alito for rejecting calls from Congress to recuse himself from cases related to the 2020 election, after reports emerged that a pair of flags often associated with the “Stop the Steal” election denial movement had flown above two of his properties in the months following the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot.

“There is zero question that Justice Alito has shown his bias in matters involving Trump and the insurrection and he should recuse himself,” the Washington Democrat said, holding up the flag controversy as just the latest example of ethically questionable conduct at the court.

“We cannot stand by as the court is plagued by scandal after scandal,” Jayapal said, “and as justices take advantage of their position for personal gain.”

Both lawmakers agreed the Senate has a major role to play in forcing the Supreme Court to address its ethical shortcomings.

“There are things we can do to put out the fire,” Johnson said. “Number one: we need to have some hearings in the Senate to … put some water on that fire.”

Jayapal agreed, adding that Congress must act “in a big way,” calling on Chief Justice John Roberts and Alito to “testify publicly and under oath about the flag-waving incidents and how the court handled them.”

Washington Representative Pramila Jayapal speaks at a court reform event on the Supreme Court steps on June 5, 2024. (Benjamin S. Weiss/Courthouse News Service)

The Democrats also pointed to pending Supreme Court ethics legislation, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s Supreme Court Recusal, Ethics and Transparency, or SCERT, Act, arguing that the Senate should vote to pass the measure.

As the House renews calls to hold the high court to account, Senate Democrats are facing heavy resistance from Republicans and the justices themselves.

Roberts last week refused to meet with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin to discuss ethics issues at the Supreme Court. Alito similarly rebuffed calls from Durbin and other Democrats to recuse himself from election-related cases. The justice argued at the time that no reasonable person would question his impartiality despite the appearance of an upside-down American flag and an “Appeal to Heaven” flag outside his residences — although both have become symbols of the election denial movement.

There also appears to be little appetite among Senate Democrat leaders to take decisive action against Alito for the flag controversy. Durbin, who also chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has signaled that he would not formally investigate the scandal.

The Illinois senator has instead repeatedly called on Roberts to exert his authority as chief justice to keep Alito in line, saying on the Senate floor Monday that the head jurist could solve the ethics issue “tonight, and have it be done by morning.”

Meanwhile, Senator Whitehouse’s SCERT Act remains in a holding pattern in the upper chamber nearly a year after it was advanced to the floor by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

If made law, the sweeping legislation would force the Supreme Court to draft a set of binding ethical standards, which would be open for public comment. The measure would also hike transparency requirements for justices who recuse themselves from certain cases and would also establish an independent review board for adjudicating ethical complaints against justices.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that he was working with Durbin to discuss a path forward for the bill and blasted Roberts for not taking action on the ethics issue of his own accord.

“Justice Roberts has not lived up to his responsibilities as chief justice on issue after issue,” Schumer told Courthouse News.

Meanwhile, court reform advocates Wednesday demanded that the Senate forge ahead with the SCERT Act.

“It’s been 274 days since the Senate Judiciary Committee passed SCERT out of committee,” said Christina Harvey, executive director of Stand Up America. “It’s time to bring it to the floor for a vote now. We need to get every senator on record on where they stand on Supreme Court corruption — the voters deserve to know.”

Follow @BenjaminSWeiss
Categories / Government, National, Politics

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