Mukasey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing, which comes as calls mount for an ethics code for United States Supreme Court justices and after lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill that would require the court to create such a code.
Supreme Court justices are facing scrutiny following recent scandals that have revealed how few reporting requirements are in place. Specifically, an April ProPublica report that Justice Clarence Thomas’ has accepted luxury trips from Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, without reporting them on financial disclosure forms, has prompted questions about the court’s ethical practices.
Senator Dick Durbin, the judiciary committee’s chair, said these scandals have sparked concerns about the justices “falling short of ethical standards expected of other federal judges” in a letter inviting Chief Justice John Roberts to testify.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Senator Jon Ossoff, a Georgia Democrat, pressed Mukasey, who served as attorney general from 2007 to 2009 under former President George W. Bush, if he would have accepted trips in the same circumstances as Thomas.
“What I’m asking you is, as a judge, is it fair to say you most likely would have declined an offer of foreign travel worth hundreds of thousands of dollars because, quite reasonably, you would’ve had the concern that public disclosure of such travel could have undermined public confidence in the impartiality of your judgment?” Ossoff asked.
However, Mukasey declined to say that he would have refused to accept those trips.
“If I were a district judge and somebody wanted to fly me on his private plane on a vacation with his family, I were friendly with that person, would I have refused and endangered the friendship? I’m not sure that I would have,” he said.
Mukasey: If I were a district judge and somebody wanted to fly me on his private plane on a vacation with his family, I were friendly with that person, would I have refused and endangered the friendship? I’m not sure that I would’ve pic.twitter.com/nKNg1wfnuA
— Acyn (@Acyn) May 2, 2023
Video of Mukasey’s testimony spread across social media Tuesday afternoon, being viewed more than 150,000 times. Newsweek reached out to Mukasey through the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, for which he works as a legal counsel, for comment via email.
Thomas has defended accepting these trips, saying under the current rules they are not reportable and that he has “always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines.”
“Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends, and we have been friends for over twenty-five years,” Thomas said in an April statement. “As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them. Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.”
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