Congress “absolutely can” reform Supreme Court ethics rules, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said, despite some arguments that Congressional interference would be a violation of the separation of powers established in the Constitution.
Pushing ethics reforms through Congress “is not going to be easy,” Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” but it doesn’t require the support of Chief Justice John Roberts.
“The chief justice has to make this decision, though, right? Separation of powers, whether — I mean, it’s pretty established Congress can’t make a law that does that, right?” NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Whitehouse.
“No, it absolutely can,” Whitehouse replied, pointing out that ethics law at the center of the controversy surrounding Clarence Thomas’ failure to disclose gifts he received while serving on the court is a law Congress passed.
“I’ll be the first one to concede, if there’s a case in the judicial branch of government, we in the Congress have nothing to say about it,” Whitehouse said Sunday. “But in terms of administering how the internal ethics of the judicial branch are done — heck, the judicial conference which does that is a creation of Congress.”
Ethics rules governing the Supreme Court and its justices have been scrutinized in recent months, after a ProPublica report in April first revealed the lavish trips that Thomas took with Harlan Crow, a Texas real estate billionaire. Since then, more reports have uncovered other gifts that Thomas did not disclose.
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