Democrats’ Supreme Court Ethics Bill Would Destroy Court, Sen. Graham Says

By Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
contributor
Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.
July 19, 2023Updated: July 19, 2023

Republicans will vigorously fight a Democrat-backed bill that would regulate the Supreme Court when the Senate Judiciary Committee votes on the measure on July 20.

“Tomorrow will be one hell of a fight,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said at a late afternoon press conference in the U.S. Capitol on July 19.

“The effort by the Left to destroy the Court in the eyes of the public is one of the most dangerous things I’ve seen since I’ve been here.”

Mr. Graham was referring to a planned markup of the proposed Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act (SCERT) of 2023 (S.359), which was introduced in February by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), chairman of the committee’s Subcommittee on the Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action, and Federal Rights.

Mr. Whitehouse’s bill would direct the Supreme Court to issue a code of conduct governing its own members.

The measure would also create a system allowing members of the public to file complaints against justices for violating the code of conduct or for engaging “in conduct that undermines the integrity of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Republicans claim the complaint mechanism is designed to prevent the court from functioning.

“We’re going to draw a line in the sand,” Mr. Graham said.

“Tomorrow Republicans are going to come to this committee and protect the constitutional separation of powers. If this bill ever passes, the Supreme Court will be destroyed as we know it.”

Republicans have suggested that Democrats only want to move against the Court because its six-member conservative-leaning majority has been rendering decisions they find objectionable.

Democrats have been demanding that the Supreme Court adopt a code of ethics after the revelation of several alleged ethical lapses committed by conservative members of the Court, particularly Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito.

Democrats are outraged that wealthy Republican donor Harlan Crow gave Justice Thomas luxurious vacations, tuition support for a grandnephew he raised, and purchased low-dollar real estate from the justice’s family.

Justice Thomas didn’t disclose the events, saying he was advised that it wasn’t required, but has vowed to disclose such events going forward.

Justice Alito defended his decisions not to disclose a paid Alaska trip in 2008 and not to recuse himself from a Court case in 2014 that was related to the person who paid for the transportation. The justice said he did not mention the trip in a 2008 report because not disclosing it was the “standard practice” in cases like this.

Democrats have been less vocal about a report that liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s staffers pressured colleges to purchase her books.

Graham’s presser came hours after Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) spoke on the Senate floor about the importance of passing the bill.

“Just about every week now, we learn something new and deeply troubling about the justices serving on the Supreme Court—the highest court in the land in the United States—and their conduct outside the courtroom,” Mr. Durbin said.

“Let me tell you, if I or any member of the Senate failed to report an all-expense paid luxury getaway or if we used our government staff to help sell books we wrote, we’d be in big trouble. The same would be true for members of the House or Cabinet officials in any presidential administration.

“That’s because all of us are subject to enforceable codes of conduct that prohibit us from using taxpayer funds for personal gain. But the same, sadly, is not true for the nine justices across the street.

“Unlike every other federal official, Supreme Court justices are not bound by a code of ethical conduct. They are the most powerful judges in the entire nation, and yet they are not required to follow even the most basic ethical standards. It’s time for that to change.”

At Graham’s media event, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Senate Democrats are involved in “an organized, concerted, deliberate effort to smear, to try to delegitimize, and to try to destroy the Supreme Court.

“Senate Democrats are angry that we have a majority on the Court that are willing to follow the Constitution and follow the law.

“And it’s important to note that Democrats don’t like democracy. If they did, they wouldn’t go to the courts and try to force through wildly unpopular left-wing policies that the voters don’t want.

“But today’s Congressional Democrats are more than willing to trample over the will of the voters and they want judges to rubber stamp their left-wing views.”

The Democrats’ discussion of ethics is “a fraud,” Mr. Cruz said.

“They have targeted Justice Thomas because they have decided they want to destroy Justice Thomas. They hate Justice Thomas, not because his conduct is different from the other eight justices, but because—a) he has voted faithful to the Constitution, and b), he is a black man who dares to be a conservative.

“And for the modern Left, that is the gravest sin of all,” he said.

The disclosure practices of Justice Thomas are not unprecedented, the senator said.

Liberal former Justice Stephen Breyer, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and current Justice Sotomayor have done “the same thing,” but Democrats “don’t attack them, because this is about politics,” Mr. Cruz said.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said that while the proposed SCERT Act may get approved by the Democrat-controlled committee, the bill “represents a line you don’t cross. It will destroy the United States Supreme Court as an institution.”

“This bill is dead as fried chicken. It’s going to get out of committee. It doesn’t have 60 votes in the Senate, and it sure can’t pass the [Republican-controlled] House.

“So why do it? Why beat the living crap out of the United States Supreme Court? I just don’t get it,” Mr. Kennedy said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the bill is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. on July 20.