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Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill Establishing ‘Code Of Conduct’ For Supreme Court Justices

Two senators introduced a bipartisan bill on Wednesday to create a code of conduct for Supreme Court justices and create an internal system for their investigation following an outcry from Democrats over the personal life of Associate Justice Clarence Thomas.

The bill – known as the “Supreme Court Code of Conduct Act” – was introduced by Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with Democrats. It requires, after one year, that a “code of conduct” be created that is binding on the chief justice and associate justices, with the ability for complaints to be made against any justice who is “prejudicial to the administration of justice; or in violation of Federal law or the code of conduct,” according to the bill’s text.

The bill would designate the marshal of the Supreme Court, who is currently responsible for court security and enforcing certain orders of the court, as an authority to investigate any complaints submitted, which would be published on the court’s website. The bill doesn’t specify who can file a complaint and whether they need to have standing to do so.

The bill comes after some Democrats have called for Thomas’ resignation over previously undeclared trips he took with billionaire real estate developer Harlan Crow, at Crow’s expense, first reported by ProPublica. Democrats argue that Crow’s relationship with Thomas poses a conflict of interest, suggesting that Thomas voted in a conservative manner on cases before the court at Crow’s enticement.

“Clarence Thomas should resign from the Supreme Court of the United States. His reputation is unsalvageable,” said Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts alongside Sen. Elizabeth Warren, echoing a call made by Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut for his resignation. In the House, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia of Illinois have called for Thomas’s resignation, with Ocasio-Cortez suggesting she may introduce articles of impeachment against him.

Thomas has defended himself against these allegations, stating that he was not previously required to make any disclosures of his trips until recently, when new rules were promulgated by the Judicial Conference of the United States, the body that sets ethical standards for federal judges.

Democrats have also previously accused Thomas’ wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, of improper conduct during the 2020 presidential election. They’ve also criticized Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee and conservative, over a property sale he made in 2017 without listing the buyer.

Following this criticism, the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois invited Chief Justice John Roberts to appear before the committee and testify as to ethical standards for justices. Roberts declined Durbin’s request, citing precedent regarding the appearance of justices.

The Supreme Court, White House and House and Senate Judiciary Committees did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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