To Combat Corruption on the Supreme Court, Congress Must Pass the High Court Gift Ban Act

Photo by Ian Hutchinson on Unsplash

Supreme Court Justices have crossed the line into what should be considered unethical behavior from the highest court in the nation. Thanks to quality investigative journalism by ProPublica, the American public became widely aware of Supreme Court Justices enjoying the receipt of gifts – including luxury items and lavish vacations—amounting to millions of dollars of unreported offerings. Among the bombshell findings by ProPublica, a report was released unveiling a record of events where Justice Clarence Thomas had been treated to lavish gifts and vacations by right-wing, billionaire mega donors for years. These events have included numerous private jet trips; getaways to the exclusive all-male resort in Bohemian Grove; a nine-day, $500,000 vacation in Indonesia on a private yacht; and visits to properties owned by the sponsor of these gifts, far-right billionaire Harlan Crow. Supreme Court justices should be held accountable to the same ethical standards we expect from other public servants. You can read the full report on Justice Thomas’s unethical conduct here.

Additionally, the recent overturn of the Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council case has disrupted decades-worth of precedent and will result in a major decrease of power that federal agencies previously held to safely regulate while simultaneously resulting in a power grab for the judicial branch. This ruling has been viewed as a landmark decision further impacting the way the public views the integrity of the Supreme Court and has only increased widespread distrust in their actions.

Congress must pass legislation curbing the bribery and corruption rampant in the Court—only then can trust in the expectation for impartial, binding Supreme Court opinions be restored.

The High Court Gift Ban Act (H.R. 8830), sponsored by Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD-8), would set a precedent for Supreme Court justices to uphold the integrity of the court and bring us a step closer to instilling a higher level of ethics that the Court must abide by. This legislation would ban justices from receiving gifts valued at more than $50 in a single instance or more than $100 in aggregate over the course of a year. It would also cap gifts of personal hospitality, which are currently unregulated, at a value equal to the tax threshold for personal gifts, currently about $18,000—bringing the Supreme Court in line with similar Congressional and federal ethical standards. You can read the bill text here, and read Rep. Raskin’s press release on the bill here.

Congress should be committed to restoring transparency and integrity into the nation’s highest court. By bringing ethical standards for Supreme Court justices closer in line with ethical standards put in place for other public servants, we can begin to restore faith in the judicial process and boost public trust in the Supreme Court.

You can support the High Court Gift Ban Act by participating in the American Humanist Association’s Action Alert. Let your representatives in Congress know that you demand accountability from the highest court in the land.