Democrats want to impose a code of conduct on SCOTUS

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Congressional Democrats are unhappy with the way some things have been going at the Supreme Court lately, so they’ve decided to draft a bill telling the justices how they should conduct their affairs. Citing “unprecedented” behavior from some of the justices (read: the conservative ones), the bill would seek to force the court to enact a “code of conduct” similar to the ones that guide lower courts. Not only is this a baldly partisan shot across the bow based on the specious reasons being offered, but the ability of Congress to blatantly stick its nose into the operation of the court is constitutionally dubious at best. (Yahoo News)

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House and Senate Democrats this week introduced a bill that would force the Supreme Court to adopt a code of conduct for justices, a step they say is needed to restore trust in the conservative majority court that has eroded because of recent Republican actions.

“The word unprecedented is starting to lose its meaning as we see more and more questionable behavior from justices,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga. “And public trust and confidence in the Supreme Court is at an all-time low.”

Another Democratic sponsor, Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, pinned that eroding trust on a series of Republican actions and decisions over the last few years, some of which helped the GOP secure a 6-3 conservative majority on the court.

The Democrats are whinging about all sorts of things here, none of which stand up well under scrutiny. They’re saying that the court’s conduct has “eroded public trust” in the institution. While it’s true that trust in government across the board has been sagging significantly in recent years (and for good reason), public approval of SCOTUS and the judicial branch was still at 47% last year. Yes, that’s lower than usual, but have you seen the approval rating of the Congress that is calling them out? (Spoiler alert: It’s 22%.)

And how about that “questionable behavior” that’s being mentioned? Some of the bill’s sponsors cited Mitch McConnell refusing to give Merrick Garland a vote, Ginni Thomas’ text messages, and the leak of the Roe ruling last year. In case the Democrats haven’t noticed, neither Mitch McConnel nor Ginni Thomas is on the Supreme Court. And while the leak was nearly unprecedented and problematic, we have yet to hear who actually leaked it. (Personally, I remain convinced it had to be a clerk rather than one of the justices themselves.)

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The bill would also establish rules determining when a justice must recuse themselves from a case. That’s certainly a valid concern for any court, but it’s a decision that has traditionally been left up to the individual justices. And one of the reasons for recusal would establish a “clear duty for the judge/justice to know when they or their family stands to gain financially from a case that’s before them.”

I’m sorry, but are you freaking kidding me? (Not actually sorry.) Are you telling us that the army of shockingly wealthy inside traders in Congress is going to lecture the Supremes about profiting from the results of the work they do? Excuse me, but Nancy and Paul Pelosi would like a word…

That brings us to the question of whether or not Congress even has the power to do this. The Supreme Court is one of three co-equal branches of the federal government, along with Congress and the President. There are a few sections of the Exceptions Clause that provide a way for Congress to determine jurisdiction in some types of cases that can impact which cases the Supreme Court can hear, but that’s about it. If they try to write a code of conduct that the Supreme Court would be forced to abide by, the law would almost certainly be challenged immediately. And who would have the last call in that challenge? The Supreme Court, of course. Good luck with that. Let us know how it works out for you.

What this boils down to is a group of Democrats who are angry about the abortion decision, gun control, and other cases where the court’s conservative majority has prevailed. You know, back when the liberal justices still held the majority on the court, they didn’t have a code of conduct then, either. But I don’t recall hearing any Democrats raising a stink about it. Funny how that works, eh?

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Ed Morrissey 11:27 PM | July 13, 2024
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