Bill would require code of conduct for U.S. Supreme Court

Legislation introduced in late April by Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Angus King, I-Maine, would require the U.S. Supreme Court to create its own code of conduct and appoint an official to review potential conflicts and public complaints.

Introduction of the bill on April 26 came in the wake of ProPublica’s report that conservative Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose several expensive trips he and his wife accepted from Texas billionaire Harlan Crow.

The two senators said the legislation would help to restore historically low levels of trust in the nation’s highest court. A Gallup poll conducted a year ago showed that 25% of adult Americans said they have a great deal of confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court, down from 36% a year earlier and five percentage points lower than the previous low recorded in 2014.

“It is critical the public has full faith that their institutions are functioning, including the judicial branch,” Murkowski said. “The Supreme Court must demonstrate independence and fairness as they rule on the laws of the land—and any cracks in the public’s confidence will have damaging repercussions for the state of our democracy.”

The legislation would require that the Supreme Court Code of Conduct Act include words giving the Supreme Court authority to initiate investigations, as needed, to determine if any Supreme Court justices or staff may have engaged in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice or that violates other federal laws or codes of conduct.

“A healthy democracy requires trust: trust in systems, trust in institutions, and trust in leaders. Americans deserve to have confidence that every part of their government – especially the highest court in the land – is acting in an ethical manner,” said King.