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Jun 12, 2024, 5:25pm EDT
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Semafor Signals

Democrats push for stronger Supreme Court ethics code amid latest Alito controversy

Insights from Rolling Stone, NBC News, MSNBC, and The Washington Post

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 Associate Justice Samuel Alito poses during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C, on April 23, 2021.
Erin Schaff/Pool via REUTERS
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Senate Democrats, led by Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, are set to bring a vote Wednesday on legislation that would require the Supreme Court to adopt a binding ethics code.

The push for an enforceable ethics code (the justices currently police themselves with no oversight) came after conservative Justice Samuel Alito was secretly recorded by a liberal activist posing as a Christian conservative at a meeting. In the tapes, Alito can reportedly be heard speaking about polarization in America, and said “there are differences on fundamental things that really can’t be compromised.”

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His wife, Martha-Ann Alito, can also reportedly be heard on another secretly made recording discussing the recent controversy over flags linked to the far-right and Jan.6 rioters that she reportedly flew over the Alito households, and threatening to sue the press for libel.

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Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Recording may call Alito’s impartiality into question

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Sources:  
Rolling Stone, NBC News, The Washington Post

Alito’s comments suggest “makes little effort to present himself as a neutral umpire calling judicial balls and strikes, but rather as a partisan member of a hard-right judicial faction,” Rolling Stone wrote in its exclusive story on the recordings. In one, Alito can reportedly be heard agreeing that the US should return to a “place of godliness.” Some legal experts agreed with Rolling Stone’s assessment, while other experts called the comment “a rather unremarkable statement” for a conservative. Ultimately, the court is inseparable from politics, one law professor told The Washington Post. “I am sad that we’ve reached the point where the justices are getting caught in these gotcha moments, but if there was nothing to get, then this wouldn’t be a story.”

The Supreme Court lacks clear ethics rules

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Sources:  
MSNBC, The Washington Post, The Brennan Center, Fox News

Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin referred to the Supreme Court as “the highest court in the land with the lowest ethical standards” in a Tuesday MSNBC interview. The Court has ethical guidelines, but court-reform advocates have long pointed out that they’re toothless — their enforcement is solely up to the justices themselves. The Alitos’ recent flag scandal showed that Congress needs to step in and shore up rules for justices, two Brennan Center experts wrote. “To have any one of our coequal branches be completely unaccountable to the others is paving the path to authoritarianism, tyranny, the abuse of power in the United States and it is structurally completely unsustainable,” Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Tuesday.

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