Senate Dems Introduce Bill Attempting to Regulate the Supreme Court; Senate GOP Rightly Blocks It

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Is it too much to ask that our elected representatives actually read the Constitution that they take an oath to uphold?

There's been a lot of talk about the need for an expanded code of ethics for the Supreme Court, and Congress — specifically, congressional Democrats — have been seeking to codify such a requirement. On Wednesday, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with other Senate Republicans, put the kibosh on a bill requiring exactly that.

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and other Republican senators on Wednesday blocked a bill requiring the Supreme Court to adopt a code of conduct and create a mechanism to enforce it in the wake of several high-profile controversies.

The legislation, the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act, would require Supreme Court justices to adopt a code of conduct, create a mechanism to investigate alleged violations of the code and other laws and improve the disclosure of potential conflicts of interest.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) requested unanimous consent to pass the legislation Wednesday afternoon.

Needless to say, Senator Durbin didn't get that unanimous consent; his use of the unanimous consent standard sure makes it look like he didn't expect it to pass, making this purely a symbolic gesture, not to mention one that flies in the face of the concept of co-equal branches of the federal government. Specifically, Congress has no power over the Supreme Court beyond the Senate's constitutional "advise and consent" role in approving nominees.


See Related: Rolling Stone Hacks Claim an Alito 'Gotcha,' Publish a 2,000-Word Nothingburger 

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Senator Graham pointed out, during the debate on the bill, that the Supreme Court has already adopted its code of ethics.

He (Graham) noted that in April of last year all nine Supreme Court justices signed a statement on ethics, principles and practices and in November promulgated a code of conduct.

“This would be an overreach, undermine the court’s ability to operate effectively,” he warned.

“All I would say is there are provisions in this bill that should bother anybody that cares about an independent judiciary,” he said, pointing out the bill would create an investigative panel of lower court judges to “preside over their bosses” on the Supreme Court.

While several other Senate Republicans spoke against the bill, including such noteworthy characters as Senator John Kennedy (R-LA), leave it to a Democrat to make such a staggering, constitutionally ignorant statement that it must be mentioned here. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) had this to say

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), the chair of the Federal Courts and Oversight Judiciary Subcommittee and sponsor of the Supreme Court ethics bill, spoke in favor of it.

“Our bill does not make the Supreme Court subservient to Congress in any respect. The bill obliges the judicial branch of government to create its own ethics enforcement mechanism that will be run within the judicial branch of government by the judicial branch of government,” he said.

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Wow. So, the bill "does not make the Supreme Court subservient to Congress," but in the same breath, he describes how the bill does precisely that by having the court "obliged" — as in, ordered by Congress — to take action governing its internal policies. 

Were we to put it to Senator Whitehouse, we may very well say: "Senator, the idea that you think that Congress has the right to order the Supreme Court to take an action, is the very definition of subservience. The court, Senator, is a co-equal branch of government. Congress cannot order them to take any such action, nor can the president. That's not how it works. That's not in the Constitution, that founding document, the ultimate law of the land, that you evidently have not read."

Senator Whitehouse's self-awareness rating: Zero.

At least the Chief Justice seems to understand this, as well as he should.

Durbin requested consent to pass Supreme Court ethics reform after he and Whitehouse unsuccessfully sought a meeting with (Chief Justice John) Roberts to discuss the need for Alito to recuse himself from Trump-related cases.

Roberts rebuffed their request in a May 30 letter, which informed the Democratic senators that such a meeting would be inadvisable because of “separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence.”

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That's precisely the point: Separation of powers concerns. The court is right to maintain management of its internal operations. Congress has no constitutional authority to intervene. Senator Graham and his colleagues were right to round-file this waste of time.

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