April 14, 2023

New York Times Editorial Board Calls for Passage of Whitehouse’s SCERT Act

SCERT Act would require the Supreme Court to adopt stricter disclosure rules and enact a process for investigating a justice’s misconduct

Washington, DC – This morning, the New York Times Editorial Board released an editorial endorsing U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-RI) Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act

The editorial follows new reporting from ProPublica that Harlan Crow, a Republican megadonor, purchased several properties from Justice Clarence Thomas in 2014.  Justice Thomas did not disclose the sales on his financial disclosure forms as federal law clearly requires.  Yesterday’s story follows another bombshell ProPublica report exposing that Justice Thomas and his wife accepted extravagant vacations on Crow’s dime, including individual trips worth as much as $500,000, also without disclosing them in likely violation of federal law.

A few weeks before ProPublica’s report about Justice Thomas’s trips, the Judicial Conference clarified that the disclosure rules would have applied to the types of trips that Justice Thomas failed to disclose.

These clarifications, “which apply to all federal judges, came after pressure by Democratic lawmakers, particularly Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, to expand the reporting requirements for ‘personal hospitality’ accepted by judges, particularly after the news of the many hunting trips accepted by Justice Scalia came out after his death.  But the new rules are still not very strong,” the New York Times wrote.

The Times continued, “A better solution is a bill introduced by Senator Whitehouse, chairman of the Senate Judiciary courts subcommittee, which would require the court to adopt a code of conduct with disclosure rules that are at least as rigorous as those imposed on members of Congress.  Justices would also have to establish clear rules about when they recuse themselves from cases and issue written statements about such recusals.”

Whitehouse’s comprehensive, bicameral SCERT Act, co-led by Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Courts Subcommittee, would create a much-needed process for investigating misconduct at the Supreme Court, strengthen recusal standards for judges and disclosure rules for special interests trying to influence the courts, improve disclosure of gifts and travel for judges, and mandate the creation of a binding code of ethics. 

“The highest Court in our land should not be held to the lowest ethical standards in government.  I’ve said that for years now, and I’m thrilled to see the New York Times roundly agree,” said Whitehouse.  “Passing my SCERT Act, as the Times urged today, would establish strong ethical guardrails at the Court.  It’s the bare minimum starting point if the Court wants to repair its own shattered credibility.”

In response to ProPublica’s latest reporting, Whitehouse, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Courts Subcommittee, urged the Judicial Conference to refer Justice Thomas to the U.S. Attorney General for apparent brazen disregard for disclosure laws.  The Senator also reupped his call for Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts to investigate Justice Thomas’s financial relationship with the politically active republican billionaire.

Read the full piece in the New York Times.

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921

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Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921