Top Democrat Clashes with Justice Alito over Supreme Court Oversight

( – Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) submitted the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act in early February for review by the Senate Judiciary Committee. He drafted the measure ahead of ProPublica’s “Friends of the Court” series of bombshell articles in April and May detailing ethically questionable transactions of Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Yet, a recent Wall Street Journal Op/Ed that included an interview with Alito regarding the legislation led to a clash with one top Democrat.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) wrote a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts on April 10 regarding the first ProPublica article, asking him to open an investigation and chastising him for not addressing the initial problem in 2012, referring to a letter he wrote Roberts more than 11 years ago. Durbin claimed Congress had a duty to ensure “the nation’s highest court does not have the federal judiciary’s lowest ethical standards.”

Durbin wrote again on April 20, inviting Roberts or a designee to participate in committee hearings regarding the legislation and SCOTUS ethics concerns. Roberts replied on April 25, declining the invitation and citing the Constitutional separation of powers as one of his reasons for not participating. Furthermore, he informed the committee chair of the Court’s dedication to its ethical standards, providing information about the guidelines Justices voluntarily follow.

On July 20, the committee voted along party lines 11 to 10 to forward the bill to the full Senate. Yet when attorney and political editorial writer David Rivkin asked Alito his opinion about the Whitehouse measure and the committee’s decision to forward it to the Senate, the Justice replied, “No provision in the Constitution gives them the authority to regulate the Supreme Court—period.”

Alito’s comments on the Op/Ed prompted another letter from Durbin to Roberts, suggesting the comments were speculative and made to a writer/attorney who has appeared before the High Court and currently has cases pending before the SCOTUS.

Publicly, Durbin clapped back at Alito’s alleged speculation. On August 2, the committee chair said the Justice wasn’t “the 101st” Senate member and discouraged any “intervention in Article I activity.” Durbin claimed Congress and the judiciary committee hold a Constitutional mandate to ensure the SCOTUS implements and enforces ethical standards of conduct.

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