In a rare move from the High Court, the joint-statement was released following the Senate Judiciary Committee's requests to propose new legislation on ethics which would allow congress to have independent oversight, instead of a general code of conduct for Justices on the Supreme Court of the United States.
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee want to see Justice Clarence Thomas, along with Justice Neil Gorsuch, testify before congress over an alleged ethics "scandal" involving unreported gifts and financial earnings. Justice Thomas has since denied any wrongdoing, and critics of the proposal say that democratic legislators are targeting Thomas and Gorsuch in a politically-motivated witchhunt because of their investments with conservatives, ABC 11 reports.
The letter signed by all nine Supreme Court Justices' was in response to a letter addressed to Justice Roberts sent by Chairman Richard Durbin (D-IL) requesting for Roberts to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 2 about the court's current ethical standards, in which the justice rejected the request.
"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," the justices said in a statement, slamming the proposed legislation.
"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 High Court says that while they will voluntarily adhere to a general code of conduct, they will not adhere to new legislation that calls for independent oversight from the judiciary committee, as the committee has no legal supervision over 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. 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 to the chairman.
The High Court wrote that, "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."
"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 statement reads. "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."
In regards to Senator Durbin's questions regarding ethics on recusal, the High Court stated, "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. 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."
The Judicial Conference of the United States sent a notice to senate democrats last week indicating that their complaint had been forwarded to the department that oversees financial disclosure compliance, ABC 11 reports.
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