Group Sign-On: Judicial Ethics Crisis

We need a Supreme Court that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and powerful. But the Court is failing to provide equal justice under law. The Court's recent decisions have been harmful to our communities. And serious questions have been raised about the ethical standards to which Supreme Court justices are held, as exemplified by the New York Times recent reporting. The Senate Judiciary Committee announced they are reviewing the allegations and the House Judiciary Committee has scheduled hearings.

The attached letter recommends the Senate initiate a formal investigation and also urges Senate passage of judicial ethics legislation that applies to the Court, and the continued confirmation of more ethical and fair-minded judicial nominees who will respect and uphold the rights of all people. 

Alliance For Justice, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Women’s Law Center, and People For the American Way have drafted the letter below, addressed to all Senators, which calls for all three of those steps to be taken. We hope that you will join us to show the broad support of the progressive community.

The Supreme Court's decisions shape the lives of every American. It is imperative that we work together to repair the damage that has been inflicted on our judiciary and ensure a justice system truly committed to equality for all under the law.

Please contact Keith Thirion (keith.thirion@afj.org) and Mike Salamon (mike.salamon@afj.org) at Alliance for Justice with any questions.

________________________________________________________
You can find the final draft of the letter below.

December X, 2022 

Dear Senators: 

On behalf of the Alliance for Justice (AFJ), The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Women’s Law Center, People For the American Way, and the undersigned XX organizations, we write to express deep concern about the lack of independence and fairness of the United States Supreme Court in light of the most recent allegations about infiltration and influence in the nation’s highest court as reported by the New York Times. We applaud the efforts for a review of these allegations and the calls for an ethics code for the Supreme Court. We urge you to take immediate action launching an investigation into these and other reports that call into question the ethical standards to which Supreme Court justices are held. Additionally, we urge swift legislative action to implement judicial ethics reforms for the Supreme Court, and the continued prioritization of the confirmation of fair-minded federal judicial nominees who will respect and uphold the rights of all people, not just the powerful few. 

We need a Supreme Court that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and powerful. 

But right now, the Court is not working for all of us. Efforts to coordinate with and embolden the ultra-conservative, anti-civil and human rights agenda are not only unethical — they are anti-democratic. Attempts to rig the Court’s decisions, roll back our rights, and harm our communities are unacceptable. The Court’s recent decisions have nakedly enshrined ideology as law, overturning decades of precedent on issues of fundamental rights including voting rights, right to abortion, labor rights, and gun safety. As Chief Justice Roberts said at his confirmation hearing, “Precedent plays an important role in promoting stability and evenhandedness. It is not enough that you may think the prior decision was wrongly decided.”(1) Yet, this overturning of precedent that is foundational to the recognition of many of our civil and human rights is harmful to us and our communities. In addition to these devastating rulings, allegations such as the ones recently reported and many others further undermine public trust in an independent judiciary.(2) We need immediate action so that we continue moving closer to the day when there is equal justice under law for everyone. 

First, we applaud the Senate Judiciary Committee for quickly announcing that it will review the allegations, and we urge a thorough investigation. For too long, reports of blatant ethical violations have gone uninvestigated. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the American judicial system, and its decisions shape the lives of every person in America and often turn on the vote of a single justice. The integrity and impartiality of each justice matters. Last term, the Court overturned decades of precedent to dismantle the constitutional right to abortion; undermined the separation of church and state; jeopardized the ability of states to enforce common sense gun violence prevention measures; undermined the EPA’s ability to enforce safeguards for our climate and environment; and much more.  In this upcoming term, the Court has already considered cases with implications for millions of Americans, on issues like civil rights, racial gerrymandering, LGBTQ rights, and the criminal justice system. We need to know that the justices who pen these momentous decisions have integrity and are committed to the rule of law. 

Second, we strongly urge Congress to pass judicial ethics legislation as soon as possible to bolster accountability and transparency and enhance public trust in our judiciary. While all other federal judges are required to follow the Code of Conduct for United States Judges (the “Code”) — a set of ethical guidelines codified and enforced by the U.S. Judicial Conference — the Supreme Court justices merely use the Code for “guidance.” With confidence in the Supreme Court at an all-time low and our democracy in peril, Congress must act in the absence of the Court doing so voluntarily. Several pieces of legislation have been recently introduced that seek to bolster accountability and transparency and enhance public trust in our judiciary.(3)

Third, we need the Senate to continue to confirm more ethical, fair-minded, and highly-qualified judicial nominees who possess a demonstrated record of protecting the rights of all people. Much progress has been made to confirm professionally and demographically diverse nominees, and we urge you to continue to make this a top priority, especially in the final weeks of this congressional session. 

Thank you for your commitment to making our institutions work for everyone. We look forward to continuing to work with you to strengthen our federal judiciary so that it lives up to the promise inscribed above the Supreme Court entrance: equal justice under law.

Sincerely, 

Alliance for Justice  

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights 

National Women’s Law Center 

People For the American Way 

[+ supporting orgs]


(1) https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=484
(2) An Alliance for Justice report released earlier this year, entitled Accountable To None: The Urgent Need for Supreme Court Ethics Reforms, cataloged multiple additional allegations of extrajudicial and political misconduct by Supreme Court justices. (3) See, e.g., Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act of 2022 (S. 4177); Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act of 2022 (S. 4188); 21st Century Courts Act of 2022 (S.4010), and Supreme Court Ethics Act (S. 2512).

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