US Supreme Court Justices of the Roberts Court
The Roberts Court (since October 2020), front row (L to R): Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. Back row (L to R): Brett Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett. Credit: Fred Schilling via / Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Connecticut’s two U.S. Senators both welcome efforts to push the U.S. Supreme Court to adopt a code of ethics amid more reports of lapses by Supreme Court justices.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is poised to vote this week doing just that and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the committee, said the most recent reports just further prove action is needed.

“The United States Supreme Court acts as if it’s answerable to no one and accountable for nothing,” he said. “That cannot be our democratic system of government.”

The Associate Press this week published a series of stories after a lengthy investigation that found Justice Sonia Sotomayor used her staff to help push book sales while scheduling college speaking engagements; that universities have used visits by justices to seek large donations; and that justices have taken expense-paid teaching trips that featured few actual lessons. 

Earlier this year, ProPublica reporters and others who followed at various news outlets reported that Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose real estate deals, trips, and other benefits he received over many years. ProPublica also reported that Justice Samuel Alito failed to disclose trips.

In some cases, the two Justices also failed to recuse themselves when those benefactors, or their associates, were parties in cases argued before the Supreme Court.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said the committee will vote Thursday on a bill to require the Supreme Court to come up with a code of ethics and a way to investigate alleged violations, among other changes.

Like Blumenthal, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., supports the bill and said he hopes it reaches the full Senate.

“This is the most ethically compromised Supreme Court in the history of the country,” Murphy said in a statement this week. “It’s no surprise that trust in the court is at an all-time low as these politicians in robes strip away the rights of Americans and roll back decades of progress on racial equality, reproductive rights, LGTBQ rights, and more while accepting free travel on private jets and luxury vacations from Republican mega donors with business before of the court.” 

Republicans, at least the ones speaking publicly, have disagreed on the need for action, though. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, used an opinion piece in the Washington Post Monday to attack Democrats. 

The piece was a defense of recent Supreme Court rulings overturning affirmative action, block President Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan and a law banning businesses from denying services to same-sex couples. 

In the piece, McConnell said Democrats are using questions around the ethics code as a way to get back at the court’s conservative majority. 

“Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are trying to tell a co-equal branch of government how to manage its internal operations, ostensibly to clean up its ‘ethics,’” McConnell wrote. 

Similarly, U.S. Sen John Cornyn, R-Texas, also on the Judiciary Committee, told the AP that the Democrats’ bill “is part of a long-standing assault against the court that the left feels is undermining a lot of things they’ve accomplished over the years by judicial action. To me, that’s the motivating factor.”

Blumenthal said this is about restoring trust in the court, though. He pointed out that the Judicial Conference has set a code of conduct for all federal judges below the Supreme Court.

“The chief justice could act tomorrow or tonight,” he said. A spokesperson for the Supreme Court did not respond to a request for comment.

Blumenthal said he hopes the recent reports, which found justices on both ideological sides of the court engaged in questionable behavior, will turn this into a bipartisan effort. 

“Now we have — for worse, not for better — apparent breaches of basic ethical standards on the part of both Democratic and Republican appointees,” he said. “No one should say that it’s just a political attack on one side or the other.” 

He also said another solution could be to simply require Supreme Court justices to follow the same rules the Judicial Conference established for other judges. 

He put in a bill to do that earlier this year. Murphy has also been pushing for that since 2011. 

“It makes no sense that every federal judge is bound by a code of ethics except for the nine who sit on the highest court in the country,” he said in his statement.