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Democrats hatch new plan to force reforms they want on Supreme Court: 'Use the power of the purse'


Democratic lawmakers may use the power of the purse to force reforms onto the Supreme Court.

Amid complaints of impropriety against Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch — none of which has been proved to be actually unethical or illegal — Senate Democrats are demanding that the Supreme Court reform its ethical code.

Despite the justices agreeing to abide by one — which Chief Justice John Roberts recently sent Senate Democrats — lawmakers critical of the court say it's not transparent enough. While all federal judges are bound by an ethical code of conduct, justices on the Supreme Court have their own, which they independently create and abide by.

But if the Supreme Court does not comply with demands for ethical reform, Senate Democrats may leverage their appropriations power to force the reform.

Specifically, lawmakers are exploring adding language to the court's appropriations bill that would compel justices "to adopt more stringent, transparent ethics rules, as well as procedures for enforcing those rules," The Hill reported.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the Senate subcommittee that provides oversight of the court's budget, confirmed to The Hill that lawmakers are exploring "all the options."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), the leading voice behind the effort, said the court itself has justified Congress using its budget power to compel other branches to act.

"There are court decisions that say very clearly that, in interbranch disputes, it is completely appropriate and proper for the legislative branch to use the power of the purse to influence the other branches in doing what they ought to be doing," Whitehouse told The Hill.

Anything else?

Last month, Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin invited Roberts to testify at a court hearing, which took place on Tuesday, on judicial ethics.

But Roberts did not attend, citing a concern that doing so would violate the separation of powers. Supreme Court justices have testified before Congress in rare instances only, Roberts told Durbin.

The decision further outraged Democrats.

"But make no mistake: Supreme Court ethics reform must happen whether the Court participates in the process or not," Durbin said in response. "It is time for Congress to accept its responsibility to establish an enforceable code of ethics for the Supreme Court, the only agency of our government without it."

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