WATCH: Lack of better ethics rules is leading to political attacks on Supreme Court, professor says

In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Supreme Court ethics, New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker questioned why it would be constitutional for Congress to pass a law requiring the court to adopt ethics rules.

Booker asked University of Virginia School of Law professor Amanda Frost to clarify her perspective on checks and balances during the May 2 panel.

Frost said that she understands the concern raised largely by Republicans that ethics rules could be used to penalize justices for decisions, but argued that the public’s low confidence in the court and its rulings is actually harmed by the current lack of ethical guidelines.

“If ethics laws were strengthened or passed by this Congress, they would apply to all the justices. If there was more transparency in the court and its process for dealing with ethical problems, then we wouldn’t have certain reporters publicizing certain justices’ problems,” Frost said. “We’d have transparency about each and every justice, whether they were abiding by the rules and what should happen next.”

The hearing followed reporting by ProPublica and other publications that uncovered Thomas has taken trips that were funded in whole or in part by real estate developer and conservative donor Harlan Crow. Thomas did not disclose the trips — or real estate Crow bought from Thomas — in a potential violation of ethics rules. Thomas has said he received guidance that the trips were considered personal hospitality and therefore not reportable. He said it was his “intent to follow this guidance in the future.”

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