WATCH: Legal experts advocate for separate ethics office for the Supreme Court in Senate hearing
University of Virginia law school professor Amanda Frost argued that Congress has the authority to regulate the actions, though not the rulings, of the Supreme Court, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the court’s ethics.
Frost cited Article Three of the Constitution more than once during her testimony. In response to a question by Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Frost again said it was that portion of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to administer the court, including requiring ethics rules.
“To question that authority today is to question 230 years of consistent practice, where Congress has legislated regarding the court,” Frost said. “To be clear, not to control its decisions — that is clearly off limits. But every other aspect of the court is controlled by Congress, from its size to when it meets.”
Klobuchar then asked Kedric Payne, senior director of ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, why it is important for the Supreme Court to have a separate ethics office.
That type of internal body is necessary to gather facts and provide ethics advice, Payne said.
“The only way that any current ethics rules or future ethics rules will work is if there is a way to enforce these rules and a way for the Supreme Court justices to understand how they apply,” Payne said.
The hearing followed reporting by ProPublica and other publications that uncovered Justice Clarence 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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