Bicameral legislation would overhaul the judicial ethics system and restore faith in our federal courts
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) reintroduced the bicameralJudicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act,legislation to strengthen our nation’s judicial ethics laws, impose an enforceable code of conduct on the Supreme Court, and ban federal judges from owning individual stock. The American people should be confident that our judges are held to the highest ethical standards and remain free from conflicts of interest.
The legislation is cosponsored by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) in the Senate and Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), André Carson (D-Ind.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Daniel Goldman (D-N.Y.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Kevin Mullin (D-Calif.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Jill Tokuda (D-Hawaii), Rashida Tlaib (D-Minn.), Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Christopher Deluzio (D-Penn.), Nanette Barragán (D-Calif), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Val Hoyle (D-Ore.), Seth Magaziner (D-R.I.), Danny Davis (D-Ill.), and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) in the House.
“It’s simple: A system without basic ethics is a corrupt system,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal.“Public trust in the Supreme Court is at record lows, and it’s not difficult to understand why. As the country’s highest Court is plagued by scandal after scandal, it’s clear that we can no longer stand by as judges and justices take advantage of their position to build wealth and power at the expense of our country. We deserve an impartial Court that isn’t beholden to special interests and personal agendas. No one is above the law, not even a Supreme Court justice. It’s time to enforce checks and balances to ensure a fair and balanced system that meets the promise of equal justice under the law.”
“Public trust in our judicial system has plummeted, but Representative Jayapal and I have legislation to help fix it,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren. “By holding the Supreme Court to a binding code of conduct and requiring all federal judges to disclose conflicts of interest, the Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Actwould strengthen mechanisms for judicial accountability and help root out conflicts of interest in our judicial system.”
“More than any other branch of government, the courts rely on public trust to operate effectively,” said Senator Tina Smith.“No one before a federal judge should have to think twice about their impartiality or conflicts of interest. This legislation would ensure judges and justices are held to the highest ethical standard and help restore Americans’ faith in the federal judiciary.”
“Supreme Court Justices should be held to the highest ethical standards. Anything less undermines the legitimacy of the court and the integrity of our entire justice system. For too long, wealthy donors and special interest groups have been able to secretly influence the highest court in the land. The American people deserve a system they can trust,” said Senator Ben Cardin. “The Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act will help fix what’s broken, hold our justices accountable and restore public confidence in our judicial system.”
“I’ve been sounding the alarm as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee on the foul breach of ethical standards when Supreme Court Justices accept extravagant gifts and trips subsidized by billionaires,” said Senator Ron Wyden.“Public trust in the Supreme Court has been eroded to an all-time low because of a lack in ethical standards and Justices refusing to recuse themselves in cases where they have a conflict of interest. Since the Justices refuse to hold themselves accountable, it’s time for Congress to step in and give Americans confidence that their judges adhere to the highest ethical standards. I’m all in to get this bill over the finish line.”
“Public trust in our judicial system is built on the foundation of federal judges working in the best interest of the people, not themselves or special interests. The lack of checks on the federal judiciary needs to come to an end,”said Senator Jeff Merkley.“Most federal judges abide by ethics restrictions—they’re commonsense guardrails that help ensure an unbiased, impartial judicial process. Supreme Court justices must have the same restrictions. This bill is a critical step in rooting out corruption and restoring public trust.”
“The American people’s trust in the nation’s highest court has stooped to a new low,” said Senator Ed Markey. “It’s no surprise. The stolen, far-right Supreme Court majority is facing a self-inflicted crisis of confidence, from trips on a billionaire donor’s yacht to a spouse’s unreported, thousand-dollar gifts from a judicial activist. The justices and judges who wield the gavel should know the difference between right and wrong—and when they don’t, it’s on Congress to hold them accountable. To defend and uphold justice itself, we need a code of conduct for our courts.”
“The American people deserve transparency and integrity from their government, including from the Justices who sit on the highest court in the land, yet time after time, they have been unwilling to hold themselves accountable,” said Senator Alex Padilla. “The Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act creates a binding code of conduct for Justices, strengthens recusal standards, increases transparency, and eliminates loopholes that can allow them to benefit financially from their positions of power. Fulfilling the promise of equal justice under the law means that the highest court should be held to the highest ethical standards.”
“The recent breaches of ethics and trust have significantly affected Americans’ faith in our nation’s highest court,” Representative Dan Goldman said. “These issues underscore the vital need to reshape ethical regulations on the Supreme Court. The revelation of decades of Justice Thomas’ conflicts of interests have not only permanently undermined his ability to do the job but also have severely damaged the legitimacy of the Supreme Court. There is an urgent need for comprehensive ethics reform as it has become clear that the Supreme Court can no longer police itself.”
“It’s outrageous that the Supreme Court is the only court in the nation not subject to a binding code of conduct,”said Representative Rashida Tlaib. “As a result, the Supreme Court’s mounting ethics scandals are rapidly eroding its legitimacy, and the Court is in urgent need of anti-corruption reform. This far-right, unhinged Supreme Court has secretly been accepting lavish trips and payments from billionaire Republican megadonors while stripping away our rights and legislating from the bench. The Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act will expedite impeachment procedures and hold these Justices to an enforceable code of ethics.”
“Public support for the Supreme Court is the lowest it’s been in history,” said Representative Ro Khanna. “A majority of Americans no longer see the Court as impartial. In order to rebuild public trust and ensure impartiality, we must establish a code of ethics for justice to prevent conflicts of interest. This includes preventing justices from accepting lavish travel and gifts. I’m proud to join Congresswoman Jayapal and Senator Warren to reintroduce the Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act.”
“Being confirmed to the highest court in our land shouldn’t be a ticket to the high life but a lifetime responsibility to uphold the rule of law and adhere to the principles of the U.S. Constitution,” said Representative Judy Chu. “I’m grateful to partner with Senator Warren and Representative Jayapal to subject the Justices of the Supreme Court to reasonably strict ethical standards and hold them accountable for conflicts of interest.”
“To have legitimacy, our courts must both be fair and be perceived as impartial,” said Representative Steve Cohen. “Unfortunately, recent revelations have made the public question the integrity of our courts and the federal bench. A 1974 federal law bars judges from hearing cases involving parties with which they or family members have an equitable interest and the Judicial Conference of the U.S., which is the federal courts’ policymaking body, requires judges to avoid even the appearance of a conflict. The Wall Street Journal stories confirming that more than 130 federal judges or their family members owned stock in companies with business in their courts was disturbing. Pro Publica’s reporting on Justice Thomas’ financial relationship with Harlan Crow raises even deeper questions about whether our highest court can police itself. I am proud to join Congresswoman Jayapal and Senator Warren and many of my Congressional colleagues in supporting this commonsense judicial reform.”
“Congress can’t keep letting Supreme Court Justices act like they’re above the law,” said Representative Chris Deluzio.“Justice Thomas’ outrageous financial relationship with a billionaire has violated the public trust and is a mockery of the law. We need a binding code of conduct at the Supreme Court, just like there is at every other court in the land. I’m proud to support the Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act.”
“It is incredible to me that when I was a Judge of the lowest jurisdiction Court in Texas, I had to adhere to a Code of Ethics, file financial disclosure statements and had oversight through a Commission on Judicial Conduct,” said Representative Sylvia Garcia. “Yet, the Judges of our highest court in our land, do not. This must change. No one is above the law. Supreme Court Judges must be held to the highest ethical standards no matter what.”
“Every American should be alarmed and outraged by the recent revelations about certain Supreme Court justices and patterns of corruption,” said Representative Veronica Escobar.“It is imperative that Congress act and implement judicial accountability to restore public trust in an increasingly that has lost the public’s trust. I’m proud to join Senator Warren and Representative Jayapal as an original cosponsor of the Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act.”
“One of the founding principles of our nation is that our democracy is a system of checks and balances,” said Representative Yvette Clarke. “It is imperative that each branch of government have the ability to respond to the actions of the other branches. And recent revelations from the U.S. Supreme Court demand a greater emphasis on transparency. I’m proud to stand by my colleagues as an original co-sponsor of the Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act to help ensure more accountability in our judicial system.”
“The Supreme Court is one of the nation’s most vital institutions and its fidelity to equal and impartial justice, as well as the public’s faith in the integrity of the judiciary, are foundational to maintaining the rule of law,” said Ranking Member Jerry Nadler.“However, as Justice Thomas’ repeated ethical lapses have demonstrated, we have seen that the Court’s code of conduct falls far below the standards other government officials are expected to follow. The Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Actwill help restore public trust in the judiciary by holding Justices to a binding ethical code, increasing financial disclosure requirements, and preventing conflicts of interest in our judicial system.”
“The American people deserve a fair and independent judiciary, period. Repeatedly, we have heard of ethical breaches within our justice system,” said Representative Jan Schakowsky.“This cannot go on. We must overhaul our nation’s judicial ethics laws and ensure that judges are held to the highest ethical standards and are free from conflicts of interest.”
“The Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Actwill establish strong mechanisms for judicial accountability and root out conflicts of interest like the ones we have recently learned about,”said Representative Jesús “Chuy” García. “It’s time for a binding ethics code for our Supreme Court and federal bench. Nobody is above the law, especially not those who shape it.”
“Americans have lost confidence in the Supreme Court, in part due to blatant corruption by justices who cater to the billionaires and special interests that fund their lavish lifestyles,” said Representative Katie Porter.“As the branch of government closest to the people, it’s Congress’ job to hold the Court accountable. I’m proudly working with Senator Warren and my colleagues to impose a strict code of ethics for our judiciary and restore trust in our highest court.”
“This country created the Supreme Court to be above electoral politics—NOT above the law,” said Representative Barbara Lee.“But in case after case, we are seeing an unaccountable, unethical conservative majority behaving as if the rules just don’t apply to them. If my colleagues on the other side of the aisle believe in an impartial court, they must support our bill to overhaul a broken system and finally create an ethical code of conduct for our nation’s highest court.”
“Public confidence in the Supreme Court has dropped to an all-time low,” Representative Mark Pocansaid. “The Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act will help restore confidence in the judicial system, ensuring Justices are held to a binding code of ethics like all other public officials. I’m pleased to be a lead co-sponsor of this legislation which will help ensure our justice system lives up to the name.”
“As a former public defender, I swore to uphold the constitution and ensure that all persons—no matter their economic status—received equal justice under law. But in our nation’s highest court, justices are subject to the least amount of responsibility and accountability. Everyday Americans do not have tools to remove unelected judges who have violated their oath of office. How just is a justice system if it allows corruption, bribery, and political pay-to-play in the highest court of the land to go unpunished?” said Representative Jasmine Crockett.“Justice Thomas’s unethical conduct has only led to the precipitous decline in faith the American people have left with the Supreme Court. Our country needs to hold justices to account. I am excited to support the Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act that will crack down on corruption in the federal judiciary and save our Supreme Court from itself.”
Specifically, the bill would:
- Require the Supreme Court to adhere to a binding Code of Conduct. The bill imposes the existing Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges on the Supreme Court, the only federal court in the country not currently subject to a binding ethical code.
- Create new mechanisms for judicial accountability. The bill closes the loophole that allows judges to escape accountability by retiring from the bench, strengthens disciplinary authority for the Judicial Conference, sets up expedited impeachment procedures for federal judges, and allows the public to file complaints against Supreme Court Justices—like all other federal judges—through a new Supreme Court Complaints Review Committee.
- Overhaul the broken judicial recusal process. The bill requires Supreme Court Justices to issue written recusal decisions whenever a litigant requests recusal and requires the Judicial Conference to issue advisory opinions with their recusal recommendations. And the bill creates a new recusal process for lower court judges, forbidding judges from making their own recusal decisions and requiring courts to issue written recusal decisions.
- Strengthen restrictions on judicial gifts and privately funded travel. The bill clarifies the definition of a “gift” under federal law, caps the monetary value of gifts that can be given as personal hospitality, sets up a new oversight process for judicial attendance at privately funded events, and creates a Judicial Education Fund to pay for the reasonable expenses associated with attending approved events.
- Ban federal judges from owning conflicted assets. To root out financial conflicts of interest, the bill forbids judges from owning individual stocks and securities, commercial real estate, trusts, and private companies, while making exceptions for certain assets such as mutual funds. And the bill establishes accounts for judges to make conflict-free investments that are independently managed by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board.
- Improve disclosure in the federal judiciary. The bill provides more information to the public regarding judicial speeches and case assignments, while mandating the livestreaming of court proceedings and new judicial workplace surveys.
- Restrict courts from sealing public health and safety records. The bill limits the ability of courts to seal records that contain important information for the protection of public health or safety, often concealed at the urging of massive corporations.
This legislation is based on provisions of Representative Jayapal’s and Senator Warren’s Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, a bill reintroduced last Congress to fundamentally change the way Washington does business and restore the American public’s faith in democracy.
This legislation is endorsed by: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Demand Justice, Public Citizen, Common Cause, Transparency International U.S., Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Women’s Law Center, People’s Parity Project, Campaign Legal Center, People for the American Way, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Revolving Door Project, Indivisible, Stand Up America, Take Back the Court Action Fund, Demand Progress, Government Accountability Project, AFSCME, Center for Popular Democracy, Project on Government Oversight (POGO), League of Conservation Voters, National Council of Jewish Women, American Atheists, Freedom from Religion Foundation, and Alliance for Justice.
“The judiciary is built on a foundation of public trust that is rapidly crumbling because of routine ethical scandals at the highest levels,” said Virginia Canter, Chief Ethics Counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).“Congress can help rebuild public trust in our judicial system by ensuring that our judges and Justices are being held to the highest ethical standards. By immediately banning judges and Justices from owning or trading individual stocks, fixing the Supreme Court’s broken recusal regime, and clarifying and improving the gift laws, that is exactly what the Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act would do. CREW calls on Congress to expeditiously pass this crucial legislation and start the process of rebuilding public trust in our courts.”
“The Supreme Court may be one of the most corrupt institutions in American government, but still the justices have made clear they will not act to restore public confidence in the institution,”said Chris Kang, Chief Counsel, Demand Justice. “This bill represents the kind of comprehensive approach needed to bring basic standards of ethics and transparency to our country’s highest court. Congress should pass it without delay.”
“Like every other court in America, the Supreme Court should be governed by a code of ethics,” said Lisa Gilbert, Executive Vice President, Public Citizen. “Our highest court should be held to the highest standards. The reforms found in Senator Warren and Representative Jayapal’s new legislation are critical for restoring the faith of the American people in the judiciary branch.”
“The highest court in the land should not have the lowest ethical standards in the judicial branch, and we must give Americans confidence that all judges are held to the highest ethical standards,”said Aaron Scherb, senior director of legislative affairs at Common Cause. “We appreciate Senator Warren and Congresswoman Jayapal’s leadership for introducing common-sense reforms in the Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act, and we call on Congress to quickly pass judicial ethics legislation.”
“Fair and impartial courts are the crown jewel of American democracy,” said Scott Greytak, Director of Advocacy for Transparency International U.S. “It was only a few years ago that the Supreme Court upheld an important anticorruption law by concluding that ‘preserving public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary’ was a compelling interest. The safeguards in this bill will further protect our courts by helping to strengthen the public’s trust that their decisions are based on the law and the facts, not on politics or personal interest.”
“Our courts must work for all of us, not just the wealthy and powerful,” said Lena Zwarensteyn, Senior Director of the Fair Courts Program, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.“As far too many recent reports have revealed, it is especially important that we know and have faith that Supreme Court justices’ decisions are informed by the facts and law, not influenced by money and power. We applaud the introduction of the Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act as a crucial step forward in holding our nation’s highest court and the entire federal judiciary to robust standards of ethics and providing much-needed transparency.”
“Public trust in our judicial system has hit rock bottom, and we’re at a perilous moment of judicial reckoning,” said Erinn D. Martin, Director of Nominations & Cross-Cutting Policies, National Women’s Law Center.“Egregious failures of ethics, transparency, and accountability at the U.S. Supreme Court threaten its credibility—and yet, when confronted with these repeated scandals that reveal systemic deficiencies, the Court has failed to adequately take corrective measures on its own. We applaud Senator Warren’s and Representative Jayapal’s timely bill that confronts these decades-long failures and provides an effective roadmap to hold our judges and Justices to the highest possible ethical standards. We urge Congress to move swiftly to pass this bill—restoring integrity in our judicial system depends on it.”
“The veil of corruption and hypocrisy continues to be lifted off of the Supreme Court. As we continue to learn more about blatant ethical violations by the justices, it becomes clearer just how unaccountable this Court is to the public. Unlike other federal courts and Congress, the Supreme Court is the only body that does not have a binding code of ethics and each passing day makes it evident that one is desperately needed. The Judicial Ethics and Anticorruption Act would begin the process of addressing a Court that currently answers to no one. The legislation would, among other things, require the Court to adhere to a binding Code of Conduct, overhaul the broken judicial recusal process, and create new mechanisms for judicial accountability. We are thrilled to support this legislation and hope that others who are committed to the rule of law and democracy will do the same.” said Tristin Brown, Policy & Program Director, People’s Parity Project.