Two senators have introduced a new bipartisan bill that would require the Supreme Court to create a code of conduct that would hold accountable all justices on the high court.
The bill was introduced by Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Independent Senator Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with Democrats.
The push comes in the wake of a report from ProPublica that revealed Justice Clarence Thomas didn’t disclose various luxury trips he and his wife Virginia accepted from Harlan Crow, a billionaire from Texas.
If the bill were to pass, the high court would be forced to implement for itself a code of conduct. That code would have to be adopted one year from the date when the bill became law, and would have to publish it on the Supreme Court website so that the public could view it.
In addition, the court would be required to name one person who would handle complaints related to violations of the code of conduct. The court also would be given the authority to start investigations into complaints to determine whether any of the Supreme Court justices or other staff members engaged in any conduct that would violate federal codes of conduct or laws, or affect how justice was being administered.
The bill would allow the court to draw up a code on its own, since that would preserve the separation of powers that needs to exist between the judicial and legislative branches of the government. The two sponsors say that by doing this, it would deflect potential criticism that Congress members were trying to interfere with the affairs of the high court.
In a statement announcing the bill, King said:
“The Supreme Court Code of Conduct Act is a commonsense step to restore and maintain faith in the high court by requiring the creation of consistent, transparent rules like the ones that apply to every other federal judge across our democracy. The other two branches of government already have codes of conduct. It is only reasonable the full Judiciary should as well.”
For her part, Murkowski said she believed the bill would address concerns the public currently has about the impartiality that the court is supposed to have. This is all coming as polling numbers have shown recently that the public’s approval of the Supreme Court is waning.
“The American public’s confidence in the Supreme Court is at an all-time low. Americans have made clear their concerns with the transparency – or lack thereof – coming from the Supreme Court and its justices.
“It is critical the public has full faith that their institutions are functioning, including the judicial branch. The Supreme Court must demonstrate independence and fairness as they rule on the laws of the land – and any cracks in the public’s confidence will have damaging repercussions for the state of our democracy.”
Just because the bill is being sponsored by one senator on each side of the aisle doesn’t mean it’ll pass through the Senate, though. At least eight other Republicans would have to support it, along with all 51 Democrats in the upper chamber.