Former Vice President Mike Pence, a candidate for the 2024 presidential election, has accused Democrats and left-wing allies of attempting to intimidate conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas due to their dissatisfaction with the court’s ideological balance.
Pence made these remarks following reports by ProPublica which claimed that Alito and Thomas had failed to disclose privately funded trips and lavish vacations provided by wealthy conservative donors. Democrats argue that this violates the 1978 Ethics in Government Act.
When asked about whether the Supreme Court should adopt an enforceable code of ethics, Pence expressed his deep respect for Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito and stated that he believed they had acted properly and with integrity. He suggested that the current situation was driven by politics, asserting that left-wing organizations, including ProPublica, still harbored resentment towards the previous administration for appointing three pro-life justices to the Supreme Court. Pence also highlighted that similar issues had not been raised regarding justices appointed by Democratic presidents.
Former President Donald Trump appointed three conservative justices to the Supreme Court—Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett—shifting the court’s composition to a 6-3 conservative majority.
Brian Fallon, the co-founder and executive director of Demand Justice, a progressive organization focused on restoring ideological balance to the courts, countered Pence’s claims. Fallon argued that while liberal justices may have attended conferences, they had not engaged in luxurious fishing and yachting trips with liberal megadonors. He criticized the current ethics procedures of the Supreme Court, arguing that they rely solely on the justices themselves to monitor their own behavior.
Alito, in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, defended his decision not to recuse himself from a case in which the court ruled 7-1 in favor of hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer. Singer had financed Alito’s private plane trip to a fishing lodge in Alaska. Alito contended that a reasonable person would not expect him to recuse himself since he was unaware of Singer’s connection to the entities involved in the case. The ruling resulted in Singer receiving a $2.4 billion payout.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), chairman of the Federal Courts and Oversight Subcommittee, announced their intention to draft Supreme Court ethics legislation after July 4 if the court does not take action itself. They expressed the view that the highest court in the country should uphold higher ethical standards and stated that the Senate Judiciary Committee would address this issue upon returning from the July 4th recess.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has urged Congress to refrain from involvement in the court’s affairs, asserting that the Supreme Court should not be dictated to by the legislative branch. McConnell expressed confidence that Chief Justice John Roberts would address the ethics concerns, suggesting that Congress lacked jurisdiction to intervene in the matter.