Top Senate Democrat Suggests Leveraging Funding To Drive Supreme Court Ethics Reform

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Senate Appropriations subcommittee chair Democratic Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen intends to use his spending bill as leverage to force the Supreme Court to adopt an ethics code, he said on Monday.

Calls for the Supreme Court to adopt a code of ethics have mounted, particularly among Democrats, as the conservative majority has handed down a series of rulings on controversial cases and justices have come under scrutiny for the political activities of their spouses. Van Hollen said in a statement provided to the Daily Caller News Foundation that the Supreme Court’s refusal to adopt a code of ethics has “contributed to eroding public confidence in the highest court in the land.”

“It is unacceptable that the Supreme Court has exempted itself from the accountability that applies to all other members of our federal courts, and I believe Congress should act to remedy this problem,” Van Hollen said. “That’s why I will seek to use the appropriations process to ensure that the Supreme Court adopts a code of conduct similar to that which applies to other members of the federal bench. I recognize that, given the composition of the Congress, this effort will require bipartisan support, so I’ll be working to secure that – but I don’t see any reason why ensuring that the Supreme Court establish a code of ethics should be a partisan issue.”

Among the Court’s funding requests for the 2024 fiscal year was $5.9 million to increase the Supreme Court Police’s protective activities and $6.5 million to improve physical security measures at the building.

On March 14, the Judicial Conference adopted standards that require justices and federal judges to disclose personal hospitality gifts, such as expense-paid trips and meals, a move celebrated by Senate Judiciary Chair Democratic Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

“I’m hopeful this rule is a harbinger of more ethics and transparency improvements to come for the Supreme Court,” he said in a statement after the Administrative Office of the Courts announced the change in a letter to him last week.

Whitehouse told The Washington Post on Monday that he hopes to see Van Hollen’s plan succeed. “They are the only organization in the entire United States government that has no mechanism for investigating alleged ethics violations,” Whitehouse told the Post. “It’s crazy.” (RELATED: Liberal Justices Dissent From SCOTUS Denial To Reconsider Death-Row Inmate’s Case)

Republicans expressed more hesitancy. Top Senate Appropriations Committee Republican, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, told the Post it would be “a policy issue that would be better debated and decided by the Judiciary Committee than an Appropriations subcommittee.”

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the top Senate Judiciary Committee Republican, said he wasn’t sure if he supported the proposal, according to the Post.

The Administrative Office of the Courts did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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