House Democrats unveiled legislation Tuesday that would place mandates on Supreme Court justices to disclose any potential conflicts of interests in cases they rule on and launch an independent panel to investigate justices if conflicts appear.
The bill would require Supreme Court justices to disclose their participation in any political event they attend, give political parties the power to challenge justices’ eligibility in a case by creating an independent conference of federal judges, and force justices to provide details if they ever recuse themselves from a case.
The proposal, which is being spearheaded by Connecticut Rep. Chris Murphy and Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York, is a meant to send a message to the high court’s conservative judges Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who critics say have been too cozy with right-wing groups. Thomas’ wife Ginni lobbies on behalf of various Tea Party groups, and Thomas and Scalia both regularly give speeches to conservative organizations. During one speech last weekend, Thomas defended his wife’s activist, and said that they both “believe in the same things.”
Also at play for the Democrats behind the bill is the possibility of a Supreme Court ruling on the new health care law, which legal observers expect to be taken up by the Supreme Court within the next year. More than 70 Democrats have called for Thomas to recuse himself from the case.
“Justice Thomas and Justice Scalia have been thumbing their nose at the notion that they should appear to be impartial. They’ve been appearing at organizations that have clearly advocated their views,” Weiner said. “At least as it relates to the health care reform act, Justice Thomas should recuse himself.”