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Make Supreme Court justices ethical, FFRF and others urge Congress

More than a dozen leading organizations are urging Congress to pass legislation imposing ethics requirements on U.S. Supreme Court justices.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and several other prominent groups, ranging from League of Conservation Voters and Indivisible to the American Humanist Association and Secular Coalition for America, have written a letter to Reps. Jerrold Nadler, chair of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, and Hank Johnson, chair of the Subcommittee on the Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Committee, to express their strong support for the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act (the SCERT Act). The Supreme Court has failed to voluntarily address the very real and understandable concerns Americans have about the judiciary, they emphasize. Now Congress must quickly step in and work to restore public trust in our courts.

Recent news has brought to the forefront the desperate need for Supreme Court ethics reform. Details continue to mount about Ginni Thomas’s involvement in the efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Yet Justice Clarence Thomas has offered no explanation for why he refused to recuse himself from multiple cases in which his spouse had interests that could be substantially affected by the outcome, and he has declined to offer any assurances that he would recuse himself from such cases in the future.

While the recent revelations regarding Thomas’s conflicts of interest are jaw-dropping, they are only the latest in a long list of examples of the court failing to enforce basic standards of judicial ethics, the organizations point out. In 2019, Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh met at the court with the head of National Organization for Marriage, an anti-LGBTQ group that had filed an amicus brief in a case for which the court heard oral arguments less than three weeks earlier. The three men posed for a photograph that was later tweeted with the message “Great day at US Supreme Court.” In 2017, Justice Neil Gorsuch gave a speech addressing a conservative group at the Trump International Hotel shortly after he was nominated to the court by Trump himself and less than two weeks before the court heard oral arguments in a case challenging Trump’s Muslim travel ban. On three separate occasions, Chief Justice John Roberts has failed to recuse himself from cases before the court in which he owned stock related to one of the parties.

“The SCERT Act is a critical first step in restoring confidence in the Supreme Court by imposing meaningful and enforceable ethics guidelines on the justices,” the groups write. “Not only will it impose a binding code of conduct on justices of the Supreme Court, who have for all of our nation’s history been uniquely unaccountable to the other branches of government or to the American public that they serve, but it will clarify and strengthen the duty of justices to recuse from cases in which they have conflicts of interest and it will increase transparency into what those conflicts might be.”

That’s why the organizations are imploring Congress to promptly pass the SCERT Act.

You can read the full letter here, with a complete list of the groups that have signed it.

FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with over 36,000 members and several chapters across the country. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.