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Durbin says Supreme Court ethics code falls short

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill
Alex Brandon
AP file
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. earlier this year.

The senior senator from Illinois said he has concerns about enforcement of the new code of conduct for Supreme Court justices.

The code was released Monday, following months of controversy over some justices’ failure to report expensive gifts and trips. They include Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Sonia Sotomayor.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Durbin said in remarks on the Senate floor the court’s first-ever ethics code “falls short” of what the standard should be.

Durbin, a Democrat, said he's troubled by the court statement that "for the most part the code contains established practices."

"That's a problem because the court's previous practices were plainly inadequate. The court's new code of conduct does not appear to contain any meaningful enforcement mechanism to hold justices accountable for any violation of the code," said Durbin.

At a glance, he said the code is similar to standards for lower-court federal judges.

“The court’s code of conduct sets forth several important canons of conduct, including canons on upholding integrity and independence of the judiciary and avoiding impropriety and the appearance of impropriety. All of these are important steps,” said Durbin.

He's still reviewing the details of the policy with the goal that the “highest court in the land not languish with the lowest standard of ethics in our federal government.”

"For now, I will note that the court's adoption of this code marks a step in the right direction. It may fall short of the ethical standard which other federal judges are held to and that's unacceptable," said Durbin.

 Senate Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation imposing a code on the court. Justice Alito pushed back in July with The Wall Street Journal.

"No provision in the Constitution gives them the authority to regulate the Supreme Court, period," Alito said.

Durbin said he first called on Chief Justice John Roberts to create a code 11 years ago, long before this year's furor over justices failing to report expensive trips and gifts.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.