June 21, 2023

Following ProPublica Report Regarding Justice Alito, Durbin & Whitehouse Announce Markup in Senate Judiciary Committee on Supreme Court Ethics Reform Legislation During Next Work Period

WASHINGTON  U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action, and Federal Rights, today released the following statement regarding a ProPublica report that alleges that Justice Samuel Alito accepted and failed to disclose a luxury fishing vacation with GOP billionaire Paul Singer who later had cases before the Court:

“The Supreme Court is in an ethical crisis of its own making due to the acceptance of lavish gifts from parties with business before the Court that several Justices have not disclosed.  The reputation and credibility of the Court are at stake.  Chief Justice Roberts could resolve this today, but he has not acted.

“The highest court in the land should not have the lowest ethical standards.  But for too long that has been the case with the United States Supreme Court.  That needs to change.  That’s why when the Senate returns after the July 4th recess, the Senate Judiciary Committee will mark up Supreme Court ethics legislation.

“We hope that before that time, Chief Justice Roberts will take the lead and bring Supreme Court ethics in line with all other federal judges.  But if the Court won’t act, then Congress must.”

In May, the Judiciary Committee held a full committee hearing entitled, “Supreme Court Ethics Reform.”  The hearing emphasized the clear need for reform and examined common sense proposals to hold Justices to – at a minimum – the same ethical standards as every other federal judge or high-ranking official in the federal government.  Durbin’s opening statement from the hearing is available here and his questions for the witnesses are available here.

Additionally, the Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action, and Federal Rights held a hearing entitled “Review of Federal Judicial Ethics Processes at the Judicial Conference of the United States,” featuring the testimony of the Honorable Mark L. Wolf, Senior U.S. District Judge for the District of Massachusetts.  Durbin’s opening statement from the hearing is available here and Whitehouse’s is here.  The Subcommittee also held a hearing entitled, “Ensuring an Impartial Judiciary: Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act of 2023.”  Durbin’s opening statement from the hearing is available here.

Durbin invited Chief Justice John Roberts, or another Justice whom the Chief Justice designated, to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the May 2nd hearing.  The Chief Justice declined to appear.  In his letter declining Durbin’s invitation, the Chief Justice attached a “Statement on Ethics Principles and Practices” that raised more questions than it answered.

On April 10th, Durbin and his Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic colleagues sent a letter to the Chief Justice urging him to take swift action to address reported conduct by Justices that is inconsistent with the ethical standards the American people expect of public servants.  Durbin received a response letter from the Secretary of the Judicial Conference of the United States and it stated that the Senators’ April 10th letter was referred to the Judicial Conference and forwarded to the Judicial Conference Committee on Financial Disclosure.

Durbin and Whitehouse have been calling on the Supreme Court to adopt an enforceable code of conduct for more than a decade.  They first sent a letter to the Chief Justice on this issue 11 years ago.

In addition, Whitehouse has engaged in a longstanding oversight effort to ensure transparency and accountability in the federal judiciary, which recently led the Judicial Conference to clarify the very financial disclosure rule Justice Thomas is now accused of abusing.  Whitehouse has also introduced the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act, a comprehensive, bicameral bill that would impose more rigorous ethical standards at the Supreme Court and establish a meaningful enforcement process.

Congress has an appropriate and well-established role in oversight of the judiciary and updating ethics laws that apply to federal officials, including justices and judges.  Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act, which the justices are subject to, and created through statute the Judicial Conference, which administers that law.

Emily Hampsten (Durbin), 202-228-5643

Meaghan McCabe (Whitehouse), 202-224-2921

Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921