Democratic senators propose $10M Supreme Court funding freeze

May 12, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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A group of fifteen Democratic senators has proposed a motion to withhold $10 million from the Supreme Court’s funding until it implements a public code of ethics, according to a recent report by The Hill.

Senator Chris Van Hollen, chair of the subcommittee responsible for the Supreme Court’s budget, voiced his agreement in early April, stating his belief that Congress should take action. Van Hollen told the Washington Post, “It is unacceptable that the Supreme Court has exempted itself from the accountability that applies to all other members of our federal courts, and I believe Congress should act to remedy this problem.”

The Hill reported that a letter was sent to Van Hollen’s Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee on March 31, calling for a $10 million cut from the Supreme Court’s budget until a public code of ethics is put into place.

“Congress has broad authority to compel the Supreme Court to institute these reforms, which would join other requirements already legislatively mandated. And Congress’s appropriations power is one tool for achieving these changes,” the senators wrote in the letter.

The proposal came just before ProPublica, an investigative news outlet, uncovered that GOP megadonor Harlan Crow had been funding lavish vacations for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for several years. The report also revealed that Crow had paid for expensive boarding school tuition for a child under Thomas’ care, neither of which were officially reported.

The Democratic senators’ request has not been without controversy. During a Supreme Court ethics hearing on Tuesday, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz claimed that the proposed $10 million budget cut could jeopardize the Supreme Court’s security measures. However, as the Washington Post reported, Van Hollen’s spokesperson said that the senator was not aware of any attempts to reduce security funding and that such a proposal was not under consideration.

In an additional twist, ProPublica reported that Justice Thomas, who had accepted substantial gifts from Crow, argued in a concurring opinion with Justice Neil Gorsuch that a law prohibiting bribery is too vague to be fairly enforced. This development comes amid calls from a group of Democratic senators for the Supreme Court to implement a public code of ethics.

The revelations from ProPublica and the subsequent proposal by the Democratic senators have sparked a debate about ethics, transparency, and accountability within the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land. As the story unfolds, all eyes will be on Congress and the Supreme Court to see how they respond to these pressing concerns.

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