On Thursday, June 13, 2024, Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.) spoke on the Senate floor about why ethics legislation for the Supreme Court is needed. Welch argued the court has failed to adopt appropriate ethical standards on its own.

Welch’s remarks came after Senate Republicans blocked a vote on the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act, or SCERT Act. The legislation aims to establish an ethics code of conduct for Supreme Court justices and create a process for reviewing ethical complaints against them.

According to Welch, the Supreme Court justices have refused to hold each other accountable on important ethical issues. He cited “lapses” and justices “disregarding normal rules of decency.” This, Welch said, is damaging trust in the judiciary.

The SCERT Act seeks to remedy several issues of concern. It would mandate the high court adopt its own code of conduct within 180 days, outlining ethics policies on financial disclosure, gifts, and recusal. Currently, justices follow voluntary guidelines.

Additionally, the act aims to bring more transparency. It would establish a process for the public to file ethics complaints against justices. An independent panel of federal judges would review any complaints.

Welch argued greater disclosure of amicus curiae, or friend-of-the-court, briefs is necessary. Parties involved in Supreme Court cases would have to reveal financial contributions to justices, including gifts given. Lobbying or money spent supporting a justice’s nomination would also be disclosed.

The senator said stronger recusal policies are overdue. Under the legislation, justices would face new requirements to recuse from cases involving parties that had direct involvement in their nominations or gave them financial benefits. Recusal decisions would require a written explanation.

Welch has a long history raising ethics concerns about the Supreme Court. In 2011, he joined other House members in pressing for an investigation of outstanding questions surrounding the high court. Welch maintained imposing enforceable standards through legislation has become unavoidable, with the court unwilling to police itself.

While Welch and Democrats support bolstering Supreme Court accountability, Republicans remain opposed to intervening in the branch’s internal affairs. For now, the SCERT Act remains stalled due to their denial of unanimous consent to advance the legislation.



Source: Senate