In an interview on Sunday, Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) slammed the justices of the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) for being a “fact-free and ethics-free zone.” Whitehouse argued that Congress has the authority to pass oversight laws regarding internal ethics in the judicial branch. As the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action, and Federal Rights, Whitehouse called the court “captured” by “front groups” run by “a bunch of right-wing billionaires” and lamented the influence of “dark money.”
Whitehouse pointed to Justice Clarence Thomas, who did not recuse himself from cases related to the 2020 presidential election despite his wife Virginia ‘Ginni’ Thomas’ support for overturning the results. Thomas claimed that she does not discuss her political activities with her spouse. Whitehouse asserted that a neutral examination could have determined the facts and resolved any doubts, but the Supreme Court lacks such a mechanism, saying on a “Meet the Press” appearance Sunday:
That is a question of fact. That’s something that could have and should have, been determined by a neutral examination, and then we’d all know. And so, the problem with the Supreme Court is that they’re in a fact-free zone as well as an ethics-free zone.
Whitehouse argued against the practicality of implementing an ethics pledge and disclosure requirements during the confirmation process for judges. Whitehouse called on Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to urge the Judicial Conference, which provides policy recommendations for Congress regarding federal courts, to develop ethics guidelines similar to those in place for circuit courts of appeals.
Justice Thomas has been under scrutiny in recent months for the gifts he received from Harlan Crow, a friend, and GOP mega-donor, spanning several years. These gifts included trips and funding for Thomas’ great-nephew’s private school education. Additionally, Thomas failed to disclose a real estate sale of his previous residence to Crow.
Federal law mandates that Supreme Court justices, among other officials, disclose most gifts on annual financial disclosure forms. Justice Thomas has argued that he did not need to disclose trips from Crow, as they were personal hospitality from a friend.
When asked if he trusts the fairness and impartiality of the federal courts, Whitehouse said:
Honest courtrooms make amazing differences with Dominion v FOX, with the folks, the parents, at Sandy Hook against the creep who was pretending that their children’s murder wasn’t real, and now recently with the judgment against Donald Trump. So, honest courtrooms are really important to cut through to the truth. When you get to the Supreme Court, if it’s an interest in which the big right-wing billionaires are concerned; very hard to count on getting a fair shot.
Whitehouse was referencing InfoWars’ Alex Jones, who was served a verdict awarding nearly a billion dollars in compensatory damages to the victims’ families.
On Sunday, during an interview, Former Republican Senator from Missouri Roy Blunt acknowledged that while the court may reach decisions that are not universally agreed upon, it serves a vital role in providing finality. Blunt expressed concern about the potential repercussions of undermining the court, stating:
The court does bring finality to things that sometimes I don’t agree with, sometimes others don’t agree with. But, what we don’t want to do is bring the court down with the rest of us.
The call for an ethics code for the Supreme Court reflects ongoing debates about public trust in the judiciary, but due to the separation of powers, the initiative is not drawing GOP support. Democrats have called for an updated and more enforceable code of ethics for the court, while Republicans have pushed back against such efforts.