Justice Alito: Congressional Authority Insufficient to Enact Ethics Code on Supreme Court

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Justice Samuel Alito of the Supreme Court has publicly stated that Congress does not have the power to impose a code of ethics on the court. This comes in response to proposals in Congress to toughen ethics rules for justices due to increased scrutiny of their activities outside of their judicial duties. Alito’s comments are the first public stance against these proposals by a member of the court. Democrats recently pushed through Supreme Court ethics legislation in a Senate committee, but the bill’s chances of success in the full Senate are slim. All federal judges, except for the Supreme Court justices, adhere to an ethics code developed by the federal judiciary. ProPublica’s reports on Justice Clarence Thomas’s activities and Chief Justice John Roberts’s refusal to testify before a committee about court ethics prompted the push for reform. Alito himself was criticized for his luxury vacation in Alaska with a Republican donor who had business interests before the court. Alito has rejected the idea of disclosing the trip or recusing himself from cases involving the donor. While other justices have not been as definitive in speaking out against ethics legislation, Chief Justice Roberts has questioned Congress’s authority to oversee the court. The Supreme Court has not yet adopted an ethics code of its own.

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