COMPASS: This is Not a Debate About Ethics…

May 2nd, 2023

Good morning from Capitol Hill.

The House is out of session for a week and the Senate is in session for the next three weeks. Last week, the House passed their debt ceiling bill by a slim 217-215 margin. Many across the country, and particularly inside the D.C. bubble, did not think even drafting legislative text for this debt ceiling proposal would be possible, let alone putting it on the floor and passing it with a slim 4 seat majority. This move by Speaker McCarthy raises the stakes in the debt ceiling negotiation and sends a strong message to the Senate and White House that the House is serious about their proposal.

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on “Supreme Court Ethics Reforms.” This, to many, might seem innocuous for the Senate Judiciary Committee, but in the context of a recent ProPublica report that attacked Justice Clarence Thomas, it becomes all very clear what this is really about. Chairman Dick Durbin (R-IL) initially sent a letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, urging him to take “swift action to address reported conduct by Justices that is inconsistent with the ethical standards the American people expect by public servants.” In the letter, it also invites the Chief Justice to testify in an open hearing regarding Supreme Court ethics reforms. Justice Roberts responded to his letter with a letter from the court signed by every Justice. According to Mike Davis, a former Chief Counsel on Nominations for Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and a Clerk of Justice Gorsuch, says it is “extremely rare” that all nine Justices would sign such a statement. Additionally, the letter back from Chief Justice Roberts also notes the rarity in the Supreme Court testifying in front of the legislative branch. “Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by the Chief Justice of the United States is exceedingly rare, as one might expect in light of separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence.” Many are claiming that this hearing is not, in fact, about reforming any Supreme Court ethics guidelines, and while aimed at Justice Clarence Thomas, this effort is really about tearing down the Supreme Court.

Mark Paoletta, former General Counsel for the Office of Management and Budget during the Trump Administration, worked on Justice Thomas’ confirmation to the Supreme Court. Paoletta knows Justice Thomas and his high ethical standards very well, and took to National Review to rebut the claims that Justice Thomas acted improperly. In fact, he states clearly that even the left knows that Justice Thomas acted ethically and obeyed all standards. “According to a March 29 New York Times report, ‘Supreme Court justices will be required to disclose more of their activities, including some free trips, air travel and other types of gifts, according to new rules adopted earlier this month…It is obvious that before these rules were adopted, justices did not have to disclose travel on private jets and stays at vacation homes of friends under the personal-hospitality rule. And that’s how Justice Thomas correctly interpreted the rule. In his statement after ProPublica’s hit piece was published, Justice Thomas stated that he consulted with colleagues at the Court and in the federal judiciary and was advised that this was the proper interpretation of the rules.’” But as Paoletta wrote at the beginning of his piece, “This latest effort by the Left is not about ethics, but about destroying the Supreme Court now that there is an originalist majority.”

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