Padilla Cosponsors Legislation to Ensure Accountability and Create Enforceable Ethics Standards in the Supreme Court

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With the Supreme Court facing a series of ethics scandals, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, cosponsored legislation led by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to bring enforceable transparency and accountability standards to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act 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 travel and hospitality for judges, and mandate the creation of a binding code of ethics.

“There is no reason that nation’s highest court should have the lowest ethical standards of any federal court or branch of government,” said Senator Padilla. “Our government functions best when there is transparency, accountability, and ethical guardrails that put impartiality above personal interest. We must work to restore and maintain trust in the highest court and passing the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act is a good first step in accomplishing that goal.”

“There are good reasons Americans are losing confidence in their Supreme Court: special interests are spending millions to try to rig the judiciary in their favor, and the justices continue to shrug off their own self-imposed ethics crises,” said Senator Whitehouse, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Courts Subcommittee. “Every other major decision maker in the federal government is subject to these kinds of ethical guardrails. It’s clearer than ever that it’s time to bring a fair and transparent set of rules—and procedures to enforce the rules—to the highest court.”

“This bill will implement some basic accountability and transparency measures to begin restoring public trust and confidence in our courts – the lifeblood of our judicial branch,” said Senator Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Serious financial disclosures and standards for recusal are pretty basic requirements for a court making decisions that impact the lives of every single American.  Americans’ trust in the Supreme Court has never been lower, which is why this measure is so urgent.  I’m proud to be working with colleagues in both the House and the Senate to move these vital reforms forward.”

The SCERT Act would address these ethical and procedural shortfalls and help restore Americans’ faith in the judicial branch. The bill would:

Create Code of Conduct and Develop a Process for Enforcement

  • Require the Supreme Court to adopt a code of conduct within 180 days;
  • Require the Supreme Court to publish its code of conduct and any other rules or procedures related to ethics, financial disclosure, and judicial misconduct;
  • Require the Supreme Court to create a transparent process for the public to submit ethics complaints against the justices, and for a random panel of chief judges from the lower courts to investigate and make recommendations based on those complaints.

Improve Hospitality and Financial Disclosures

  • Require the Supreme Court to adopt rules requiring disclosure rules for gifts, travel, and income received by justices and law clerks that are at least as rigorous as the House and Senate disclosure rules;
  • Require greater disclosure of amicus curiae funding;
  • Require parties and amici curiae before the Supreme Court to disclose any recent gifts, travel, or reimbursements they’ve given to a justice;
  • Require parties and amici curiae before the Supreme Court to disclose any lobbying or money they spent promoting a justice’s confirmation to the Court.

Strengthen Recusal Requirements

  • Create new recusal requirements governing gifts, income, or reimbursements given to judges;
  • Create new recusal requirements governing a party’s lobbying or spending money to campaign for a judge’s confirmation;
  • Ensure that requests for a judge to recuse are reviewed by a panel of randomly selected, impartial judges, or by the rest of the justices at the Supreme Court;
  • Require written notification and explanations of recusal decisions;
  • Require the judiciary to develop rules explaining when a judge’s connection to an amicus curiae brief might require recusal; and
  • Require the Federal Judicial Center to study and report to Congress every two years on the extent to which the judiciary is complying with recusal requirements.

In addition to Senators Padilla, Whitehouse, and Blumenthal, the SCERT Act is cosponsored by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).

A Gallup poll conducted in June – before the Court overturned Roe v. Wade, curtailed the EPA’s ability to fight climate change, and threw out centuries-old gun safety regulations – found that only 25 percent of Americans had a “great deal of confidence” in the Supreme Court.

Full text of the bill is available here.


Related Issues