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House Speaker Supports Code of Ethics for Supreme Court Justices

April 1, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
House Speaker Supports Code of Ethics for Supreme Court Justices
In this March 16, 2020, photo, a tree blooms outside the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is joining calls for a Supreme Court code of ethics to limit what critics say is sometimes out-of-control behavior by the justices.

The California Democrat announced her support of a code of ethics after recent reports the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas sent text messages to a member of the Trump administration endorsing the idea of overturning the 2020 presidential election.

Pelosi and other lawmakers think Clarence Thomas should recuse himself from a variety of cases involving the administration of President Joe Biden, who defeated Donald Trump in the last election.

Under current rules, “it’s a personal decision of a judge as to whether he should recuse himself,” Pelosi said. “Well, if your wife is an admitted and proud contributor to a coup of our country, maybe you should weigh that in your ethical standards.”

More importantly, Pelosi and other Democrats say the Supreme Court should have no exemption from the code of ethics that controls all federal judges.

Right now, the Supreme Court oversees the rules for other judges but is not subject to them.

“It’s the Supreme Court of the United States, they’re making judgments about the air we breathe and everything else, and we don’t even know what their ethical standard is,” Pelosi said at her weekly press conference Thursday.

Pelosi’s support for the code of ethics is not the first time it has been discussed in Congress. It merely shows the proposal introduced the first time in 2011 is gaining powerful allies who could push it to a vote.

One bill that proposes a Supreme Court code of ethics is the For the People Act, introduced as H.R. 1. It is intended primarily to protect voting rights, reduce the influence of lobbyists that fund campaigns and to ban gerrymandering.

Under another provision, the Judicial Conference of the United States would issue a code of conduct for all justices on the Supreme Court.

The Judicial Conference is the national policy-making body for the federal courts, authorized by Congress and presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. It administers federal courts and makes recommendations to Congress.

The Democrat-dominated House approved the For the People Act last month but it is running into stiff opposition in the Senate.

Pelosi suggested that a House committee hold a hearing on a Supreme Court code of conduct soon. She did not give a date or name a committee that would conduct the hearing.

Other lawmakers who support subjecting the Supreme Court to the Judicial Conference’s rules include Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. He introduced a bill called the Supreme Court Ethics Act.

“I think my Democratic and Republican colleagues can agree on this: the American people deserve to know that our Supreme Court justices are being held to the highest standards, whether they be justices appointed by Democratic presidents or justices appointed by Republican presidents,” Murphy said on the floor of the Senate Thursday.

“It’s not enough for us to just trust the Court any longer to self-enforce a secret, internal code of ethics,” he said. “The highest court in the land cannot be exempt from the standards we hold every other federal judge to.”

The issue was reinvigorated by recent news reports that Virginia “Ginni” Thomas exchanged 29 text messages with former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows days after the 2020 presidential election. Trump claimed the election was stolen from him through voter fraud.

Ginni Thomas accused Democrats in one text message of committing “the Greatest Heist of our History.” She encouraged Meadows to help overturn the election.

Democrats want Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from cases arising from the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection.

Republicans, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said Democrats are seizing on the incident with Ginni Thomas as a pretense for advancing their policies.

“This is a political hit, part of liberals’ years-long quest to delegitimize the court, all because our laws and constitution occasionally inconvenience the Democrats’ radical agenda,” McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor.

Tom can be reached at tom@thewellnews.com

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