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In a rare move, the U.S. Supreme Court’s nine justices have spoken as one in a rebuke to Democrats who have been accusing Clarence Thomas of major ethics violations.
On Tuesday, a letter signed by all nine justices was sent to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, criticizing Democratic lawmakers for their ethics complaints against Thomas.
The joint statement was issued in response to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s call to propose new ethics legislation that would provide independent oversight of the high court to Congress instead of the current general code of conduct for justices on the United States Supreme Court.
Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats have called for Clarence Thomas, along with Justice Neil Gorsuch, to testify before Congress over an alleged ethics “scandal” involving unreported gifts and financial earnings. Thomas has denied any wrongdoing, and critics of the proposal claim that the Democrats are targeting Thomas and Gorsuch in a politically-motivated witch hunt because of their investments with conservatives, according to ABC 11.
The justices’ letter was in response to one sent by Chairman Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) to Chief Justice John Roberts requesting his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 2 to discuss the court’s current ethical standards.
BREAKING: Chief Justice Roberts declines Senator Durbin’s invitation to testify before the senate judiciary committee pic.twitter.com/aiG2OE4iQq
— Steven Mazie (@stevenmazie) April 25, 2023
“The undersigned Justices today reaffirm and restate foundational ethics principles and practices to which they subscribe in carrying out their responsibilities as Members of the Supreme Court of the United States. This statement aims to provide new clarity to the bar and to the public on how the Justices address certain recurring issues, and also seeks to dispel some common misconceptions,” they wrote.
“The Justices, like other federal judges, consult a wide variety of authorities to address specific ethical issues. They may turn to judicial opinions, treatises, scholarly articles, disciplinary decisions, and the historical practice of the Court and the federal judiciary. They may also seek advice from the Court’s Legal Office and from their colleagues,” the letter added.
The justices stated that they will comply with a general code of conduct voluntarily, but they will not adhere to any new legislation that calls for independent oversight from the judiciary committee, as Congress has no constitutional role to play in overseeing the Supreme Court.
“In 1922, Congress instituted the Judicial Conference of the United States as an instrument to manage the lower federal courts. The Judicial Conference, which binds lower courts, does not supervise the Supreme Court,” the justices’ letter continued.
“Nevertheless, for a century, the Conference has contributed to the development of a body of ethical rules and practices—including through the lower court Code of Conduct—which are of significant importance to the Justices,” the justices explained.
“In 1991, Members of the Court voluntarily adopted a resolution to follow the substance of the Judicial Conference Regulations. Since then Justices have followed the financial disclosure requirements and limitations on gifts, outside earned income, outside employment, and honoraria,” the letter continued.
“They file the same annual financial disclosure reports as other federal judges. Those reports disclose, among other things, the Justices’ non-governmental income, investments, gifts, and reimbursements from third parties. For purposes of sound administration, the Justices, like lower court judges, file those reports through the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Financial Disclosure,” the letter added.
“That Committee reviews the information contained in these reports and either finds them to be in compliance with applicable laws and regulations or sends a letter of inquiry if additional information is needed to make that determination,” it said.
The letter also noted that the level of vitriol and violence aimed at the country’s highest court is at unprecedented levels, with several Republicans blaming Democrats’ heated rhetoric for the rise.
“Judges at all levels face increased threats to personal safety. These threats are magnified with respect to Members of the Supreme Court, given the higher profile of the matters they address. Recent episodes confirm that such dangers are not 6 merely hypothetical,” the letter noted.
“Security issues are addressed by the Supreme Court Police, United States Marshals, state and local law enforcement, and other authorities. Matters considered here concerning issues such as travel, accommodations, and disclosure may at times have to take into account security guidance.”