(Washington) Cruises on a mega-yacht, dubious real estate transactions… Recent controversies surrounding conservative justices of the Supreme Court of the United States were closely examined on Tuesday by a Senate committee.
Once one of the most respected institutions in the country, the American temple of law – which settles important societal debates like the death penalty or abortion – sees its star fade.
Appointed for life, its nine justices are the only federal judges to escape an explicit code of conduct — an exception considered in a parliamentary hearing.
“The highest court in the land shouldn’t have the weakest rules of ethics,” said Dick Durbin, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
If a parliamentary hearing on the ethics of the Supreme Court is unusual, it is also rare that it is at the heart of so much controversy.
Clarence Thomas, the Court’s most conservative judge, found himself in the storm when the ProPublica media revealed that he had accepted, without declaring them, expensive gifts, including private jet flights or cruises on a mega -yacht, from Republican billionaire Harlan Crow.
Some elected Democrats have called for his “immediate resignation”.
He defended himself by assuring that the rules governing declarations around this type of stays had changed and that Mr. Crow had no case pending before the Supreme Court.
Clarence Thomas isn’t the only judge to have caught the eye.
Fellow conservative Neil Gorsuch sold, just after his Supreme Court confirmation in 2017, a large property in Colorado to law firm executive Greenberg Traurig who regularly litigates cases in the high court, according to Politico.
“The lack of a formal structure to define and validate the ethical rules governing Supreme Court justices is indefensible,” Jeremy Fogel, a former federal judge, warned Congress Tuesday.
Controlled by the Democrats, this commission had invited the head of the Supreme Court John Roberts, also conservative, to testify. But the judge refused, citing “concerns related to the separation of powers and the importance of preserving the independence of the judiciary”.
Republicans on that committee accused their fellow Democrats of trying to “discredit” the court’s justices, whose nominations are vetted by the Senate, with this hearing.
“Democrats should file a case at the yeep-yeah club and move on,” urged Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy.
All of this turmoil comes after a tumultuous year for the Supreme Court.
It canceled the constitutional protection of abortion, limited the means of the federal state to fight against global warming or even reinforced the right to carry a weapon.
The institution also suffered an unprecedented leak. His ruling on abortion, which allowed some 15 states to ban it, was obtained by Politico before it was published — a year ago to the day.
Her popularity has hit a low: 58% of Americans consider her doing her job poorly.
In his letter inviting the Chief of the Supreme Court to testify, Senate Judiciary Committee Chief Dick Durbin noted that “revelations about judges failing to uphold expected ethical standards [have] continued to grow.” .
John Roberts had attached to his response a copy of the Supreme Court’s ethical guidelines and a statement signed by the nine wise men in which they reaffirmed “fundamental ethical principles and practices”.