'Ethics-free zone': Senate Judiciary member says Congress 'absolutely can' impose reforms on SCOTUS

'Ethics-free zone': Senate Judiciary member says Congress 'absolutely can' impose reforms on SCOTUS
WASHINGTON - APRIL 15: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas testifies during a hearing before the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee April 15, 2010 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was to examine the FY2011 budget request for the Supreme Court. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who sits on the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, on Sunday told NBC’s Meet the Press that Congress “absolutely can” impose ethics laws on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), the Guardian reports.

Speaking with NBC’s Chuck Todd, Whitehouse refuted the claim that “it’s pretty established” that Congress would be unable to impose such laws on Court.

“No, it absolutely can,” Whitehouse said.

When Todd replied that Congress doing so so “doesn’t mean it’s constitutional,” Whitehouse fired back:

Yes, it does. It means it’s constitutional because the laws that we’re talking about right now are actually laws passed by Congress. The ethics reporting law that is at the heart of the Clarence Thomas ethics reporting scandal is a law passed by Congress.

Whitehouse’s remarks come after billionaire Harlan Crow last week refused to comply with a Senate Judiciary Committee request to detail gifts he bestowed on SCOTUS Justice Clarence Thomas. According to ProPublica, Thomas, for over 20 years, has "been treated to luxury vacations” from Crow, among other benefits.

In a letter from his attorneys to the Judiciary Committee, Crow refused to comply with the request and argued “Congress does not have the constitutional power to impose ethics rules and standards on the Supreme Court.”

“Doing so would … violate basic separation of powers principles,” Crow’s lawyers claimed.

Todd repeated that claim to Whitehouse on Sunday, prompting the senator to a argue that the legislative branch does, indeed, play a role “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,” Whitehouse reminded Todd.

Whitehouse admitted “it’s not going to be easy” to implement ethics reforms on SCOTUS.

“So I think that the first step is going to be for the judicial conference, the other judges, to put some constraints around the Supreme Court’s behavior and treat the Supreme Court the way all other federal judges are treated,” he offered.

Whitehouse also lamented that the Court, under Chief Justice John Roberts, has become a “fact-free zone as well as an ethics-free zone” and described the Federalist Society’s influence on SCOTUS similar to “railroad barons.”

You can watch the full interview below or at this link.

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