Chairman Nadler Statement for Hearing on "Building Confidence in the Supreme Court Through Ethics and Recusal Reform"
Washington, April 27, 2022
Washington, D.C. - Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, during a Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet hearing on "Building Confidence in the Supreme Court Through Ethics and Recusal Reform":
“The Supreme Court is one of the nation’s most vital institutions. Its duties are sacred—to administer justice and uphold the rule of law, and to do so independently and fairly. Now, and as always, the Court’s fidelity to the principles of equal and impartial justice, as well as the public's faith in the integrity of the judiciary, are foundational to maintaining the rule of law. Our federal judiciary is the envy of the world, and Congress has an obligation to ensure that this hard-earned reputation is maintained.
“Unfortunately, the reputation of the Court has been undermined in recent years by the actions of the justices themselves, across the ideological spectrum. We expect the justices of our nation’s highest court to hold themselves to the highest standards of ethical conduct, but in fact their conduct too often falls below the standards that lower court judges are required to follow.
“Public faith is weakened by every story about a justice being treated to a lavish junket, accepting an unreported gift or failing to disclose an asset, appearing on stage or on social media with a political candidate, attending $350-a-head dinners hosted by dark money groups, or meeting behind closed doors with entities that have interests before the Court.
“People are justifiably shocked when they learn that not only is there no code of conduct for the Supreme Court, but that the justices have steadfastly opposed the creation of one. Every member of Congress is subject to a code of conduct, as is every other federal judge.
“Article I and administrative law judges in the executive branch are subject to even more stringent ethics requirements, including a statutory prohibition on criminal conflicts of interest.
“Even more concerning are the justices’ repeated failures to abide by the federal recusal statute, which does apply to them. Not a year seems to go by without another example in which a justice fails to recuse themselves despite having a financial connection to a party, or having participated in a case before they became a justice—clear grounds for recusal.
“A number of justices have suggested that they are subject to a less stringent recusal standard than every other federal judge, or even that the law might not apply to them in the same way as to other judges, or at all.
“In recent years, the recusal problem has grown much more serious. Last year, for example, Justice Barrett refused to recuse from a case involving a group that had spent more than a million dollars advocating her appointment to the bench. Three justices refused to recuse from a case involving the publisher who had given them six and seven-digit book deals. And of course, we now know that Justice Thomas failed to recuse from at least one case involving the attempt to overturn the 2020 election despite his wife’s apparent direct and active involvement in that effort.
“The appearance of impropriety and disregard for the law can have devastating impacts on the public’s trust in the integrity and independence of the judiciary. Our constitutional system suffers when it looks like the justices of the Supreme Court—the very people we entrust to maintain the rule of law—think that they, themselves, are above the law.
“Thus, we must remain vigilant against attempts to undermine the foundational ideals of impartiality and fairness that the public must rely on.
“With the seriousness of this obligation in mind, I look forward to hearing from our distinguished panel of witnesses, and I yield back the balance of my time.”