Rep. Lee Stresses Need For Supreme Court Ethics Reform in Oversight Democrats Roundtable

**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE** 

Contact: Vaibhav.Vijay@mail.house.gov | 771.215.7243 

Kyla.Gill@mail.house.gov | 412.841.7913

Rep. Lee Stresses Need For Supreme Court Ethics Reform in Oversight Democrats Roundtable

WASHINGTON—Today, Rep. Summer Lee (PA-12) joined the growing call stressing the need for Supreme Court Ethics Reform in today’s House Oversight Democrats Roundtable. In her line of questioning, Rep. Lee made the point that conflicts of interest in the Supreme Court aren’t ‘hypothetical,’ but in reality the status quo–as Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito have documented cases of accepting gifts on behalf of right-wing billionaires with interests being taken up by the court. Rep. Lee also pointed out that the Supreme Court is facing a serious legitimacy crisis, with the vast majority of Americans disapproving of their actions. 

Watch Full Remarks Here: 

Congresswoman Lee’s Full Remarks

I want to thank the Ranking Member for stepping up and holding this important discussion that is increasingly clear we will not get from our Republican colleagues. As someone who spent a little bit of time in law school and getting a little bit of flashbacks from how particular and specific our conversations will be, I want to have a bit of a layman’s conversation because demystifying the court is actually one of the most important things that we need to do right now. As we’re looking towards Project 2025 or all of these other issues, that we need folks to understand that this isn’t as complicated as it seems.

In September 2022, Chief Justice Roberts said that he doesn’t understand the questions about the Supreme Court’s legitimacy. 

Since then, we’ve seen documented cases of Justices being wined and dined by billionaires, failing to recuse themselves in cases where their own wife is embroiled, and displaying insurrectionist flags outside their house all with zero consequences. 

Whether we like it or not, the Supreme Court, as Rep. Tlaib just said, is absolutely in a legitimacy crisis. We can call it a corruption crisis, an ethical crisis, or a legitimacy crisis. Over half the country doesn’t approve of the actions of our Supreme Court. That doesn’t just mean approval of their rulings, that’s approval of the job itself they are doing.  

In November, the Supreme Court tried to placate us by adopting a code of ethics. But it’s clear we have to go further.

Mr. Aronson

Q1: Mr. Aronson, if a Justice violates one of their adopted ethics rules, who investigates that violation?

A: There is no provision in the ethics code that provides for any investigation of the justices, they leave it up to themselves.

Q2: What are the consequences of a violation and who would enforce those consequences?

A: Congresswoman, the Supreme Court has made clear that it doesn’t think it can be held accountable either by Congress or by the judicial conference which does regulate and discipline the conduct of lower court judges. There’s nobody to hold them accountable. 

So we essentially have a code with no teeth or function. It just serves as a way to get people to stop complaining and keep with the status quo. 

Prof. Shaw

As a lawyer, we had to take the NPRE, we have to take continual education classes in ethics, and we could be disbarred, there are mechanisms to hold us accountable. 

Q3: Professor Shaw, when a lawyer violates an ethics rule, who investigates and sanctions that lawyer? 

Every state has its own bar disciplinary authority. So, a formal process in every state, and that’s the process that gets invoked if there’s an ethical violation.

Q4: What about when a state court judge violates their ethics code?

Again, the mechanisms vary state-to-state, but there are state disciplinary bodies that do have significantly more investigative and enforcement authority. There have been a couple episodes recently, involving arguably abuses of those disciplinary proceedings, targeting justices for unpopular statements or rulings, so that can be abused. But to the point to your question, it exists, and it is a meaningful mechanism of enforcement of ethical guidelines.

Q5: How about when a Member of Congress is accused of an ethics violation? Who investigates and enforces that?

I think the ethics committee would do that, right?

We do have an ethics committee, so the rest of the legal community and members of Congress are subject to actual ethics standards and enforcement, no matter how effective they are they do exist. And yet, our Supreme Court, the Supreme Court of the land with lifetime tenure, has decided that they don’t need that level of reviewer scrutiny. We’re seeing it right now.

Ms. Datla

Q6: Ms. Datla, could you tell us how billionaire Charles Koch and billion-dollar trust fund manager Leonard Leo have helped fuel litigation and Court rulings that limit our ability to mitigate the devastating impacts of climate change that are underway? 

A: I’m unfortunately not an expert on the direct connection on the financing side of things but what I can say is that in many of our cases we see multiple groups raising the same kind of legal arguments, and it’s just impossible to look at the briefing objectively and to say that there is not a significant degree of coordination and a significant amount of resources going into coming up with the arguments like the Major Questions doctrine, like setting the stage for overruling Chevron deference, to address other pressing environmental impacts. 

SL: We’ve seen the reports noting that, for example, Koch has featured Clarence Thomas in at least one exclusive meeting with his closest donor allies, along with Leo, and Leo has arranged luxury travel for Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito to meet with billionaires. 

Mr. Aronson

Q7: What is the recourse if a Justice doesn’t recuse themselves from a case?

A: A party to the proceeding can bring a motion, as Congressman Raskin has proposed, that the Justice Department do in the Trump Insurrection cases to disqualify them, whether to recuse themselves from the case. If I can amend my last answer just a bit, there is a process by which the judicial conference can review willful failures to disclose financial disclosures and refer those questions to the Attorney General. The Attorney General does have a role to play in the enforcement of that.

SL: And obviously, we can go much farther as we’ve seen our colleagues propose today.

We shouldn’t continue living in this alternate reality that believes our Supreme Court is free of corrupting influences. At this moment–where our climate, reproductive rights, voting rights, protections for our trans and queer siblings, and our fundamental guardrails against racial discrimination are under threat–this Court is being wined and dined by the very people that profit from this pain. We must call it out for it is, and seriously address the corruption that exists in our legal system.

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