Lawmaker Wants Hearing on High Court Ethics

Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy has asked in a draft letter for a House hearing on his Supreme Court ethics bill, while citing disclosures about Justice Clarence Thomas’s conduct that Murphy says call into question the court’s impartiality.

In the draft letter reported by Think Progress, the Connecticut lawmaker wrote:

“Recent revelations about Justice Thomas accepting tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from individuals and organizations who often have an interest in matters before the courts calls into question the Court’s impartiality. Canon 4D of the Code of Conduct incorporates regulations providing that ‘[a] judicial officer or employee shall not accept a gift from anyone who is seeking official action from or doing business with the court.'”

The ethics code applies to federal judges other than Supreme Court justices, and Murphy’s bill would make it apply to the nation’s highest court as well (see Gavel Grab).

A recent New York Times article about Justice Thomas’s friendship with a real estate magnate, Harlan Crow, raised ethics questions. The article focused on Crow’s financing a museum project in the judge’s birth place of Pin Point, Ga., and it also addressed Crow’s involvement with conservative organizations.

Crow “has served on the boards of two conservative organizations involved in filing supporting briefs in cases before the Supreme Court,” the article reported. It said one of those organizations, the American Enterprise Institute, gave Justice Thomas in 2001 a bust of Lincoln valued at $15,000.

The issue of Supreme Court ethics was the topic of a St. Petersburg (Florida) Times editorial entitled, “Clarence Thomas crosses ethical line.”

In Huffington Post, Michael P. Keegan, president of People for the American Way, wrote a commentary that was headlined, “Justice Thomas Doesn’t Ask Questions, but He Certainly Should Have Some Answers.”

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