Republican Senators Urge Chief Justice Roberts to Adopt Supreme Court Code of Ethics

June 26, 2023

Republican Senate leaders are urging Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to adopt a code of ethics—like virtually every other court in the U.S. 

The urging comes from Republicans who don’t support legislative measures from Senate Democrats to write up a code of ethics for the Supreme Court. 

Amid reports that Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito have accepted—without publicly disclosing—six-figure vacations and other expensive gifts from Republican political donors, Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) has warned that if Roberts doesn’t adopt a formal code of ethics for the Court, Congress will create a code for it. 

Judiciary Committee Ranking Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said recently, “I think it would be helpful for the court to up its game. I don’t want Congress to start micromanaging the court but I think confidence-building would be had if they were more clear on some of this stuff.” 

Sen. Tom Tillis (R-NC) has generally agreed but added, “I think it’s a process that theJustices should go through and get consensus. The Chief Justice can’t do it on his own.”

While declining a request from Durbin to testify before the committee, Roberts submitted a Statement on Ethics Principles and Practices that had been signed by all nine Justices. 

“It is an extraordinary document—not in a good way,” Durbin countered at during a committee hearing on the issue in early May. “It makes clear that while the Justices are fine with consulting with certain authorities on how to address ethical issues, they do not feel bound by those same authorities.”

Durbin has noted that already the Senate has several different versions of a Supreme Court code of ethics “on the table,” including at least one bipartisan proposal co-authored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

And Graham has been saying for months that the Supreme Court should adopt a new set of ethical guidelines, stating in April, “A lot of us are really leery of micromanaging the other branch, but I think that’s where the Court is headed. At least that’s where I hope they are.”

As the Supreme Court is wrapping up its 2022-2023 term, a new poll from Quinnipiac University has found that national approval of the Court has dropped to a new low, with just 30% of registered voters approving of the Court while 59% disapprove—the lowest rating for the Supreme Court since Quinnipiac started asking the question in 2004.

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