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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Senate Dems to press forward with Supreme Court ethics legislation, but Republican roadblock guaranteed

GOP lawmakers are sure to object to Democrats request to pass Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s bill by unanimous consent.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Senate Democrats are expected Wednesday to try to push through legislation aimed at forcing the U.S. Supreme Court to adopt an enforceable code of ethics — but the bill is all but sure to stumble on staunch Republican opposition.

It’s been nearly a year since the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency, or SCERT Act. The bill, which if made law would force the high court to adopt an enforceable ethics code in the public eye, has been in a holding pattern on the Senate floor since then.

But Democrats said Tuesday that they were finally angling to bring the measure to the floor.

In a press release, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said that lawmakers would on Wednesday request that the Senate pass Whitehouse’s bill via a procedural mechanism known as unanimous consent — which is typically reserved for uncontroversial actions such as approving military promotions.

But the legislation is far from bipartisan, and its passage is all but certain to be blocked by Senate Republicans who view their colleagues’ complaints about ethics issues at the Supreme Court as pure partisanship.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, the Judiciary Committee’s Republican ranking member, told reporters that he would object to the unanimous consent request.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, declined to comment on Democrats’ effort to push through Supreme Court ethics reform.

But Whitehouse, the bill’s sponsor, said that while he expected Republicans would block the measure, it was “important to stay engaged.”

“This is an occasion to speak to the need for Supreme Court ethics reform,” he said.

Democrats have for months tried to hold the high court’s collective feet to the fire amid a cascade of reports that some of its justices engaged in ethically questionable conduct. Lawmakers’ concerns were turbocharged amid recent revelations that a pair of flags associated with election denial activists flew above homes belonging to Justice Samuel Alito.

The court, however, has been largely resistant to congressional oversight. Alito rejected calls from lawmakers to recuse himself from Supreme Court cases involving the 2020 election or the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, and Chief Justice John Roberts rebuffed a request to meet with Democrats to discuss ethics issues.

Whitehouse’s bill represents some of the most solid congressional oversight to come out of the Judiciary Committee’s investigation of the high court, which some judiciary experts have derided as “tepid” and lacking teeth.

In addition to mandating the Supreme Court draft an enforceable ethics code, the measure would also establish a recusal mechanism for justices and stand up a review panel to adjudicate ethics complaints against the high court.

The bill only barely passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last summer on a party line vote.

Tuesday’s announcement came as Whitehouse met House Democrats for a roundtable discussion on Supreme Court ethics issues. He held up his SCERT Act as a step towards accountability for the court and also backed measures that would create term limits for justices and expand the court.

Follow @BenjaminSWeiss
Categories / Government, National, Politics

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