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Rhode Island senator complaint against Justice Alito


(The Center Square) — Democratic Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has filed a complaint with the Supreme Court against conservative Justice Samuel Alito over recent comments that Congress doesn’t have the power to set ethics rules for the high court.

In a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, Whitehouse cited comments Alito made in a Wall Street Journal July 28 interview, saying that “no provision” in the Constitution gives Congress the authority to regulate the Supreme Court in calling on the court’s leader to investigate for potential ethical violations.

Whitehouse said Alito’s comments directly relate to legislation he filed calling for setting an ethics code for the Supreme Court, which the Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee approved in July. He suggested the move may be part of an orchestrated campaign to derail the ethics legislation.

“In the worst case facts may reveal, Justice Alito was involved in an organized campaign to block congressional action with regard to a matter in which he has a personal stake,” he wrote. “Whether Justice Alito was unwittingly used to provide fodder for such interference, or intentionally participated, is a question whose answer requires additional facts.”

He urged Roberts, who oversees the U.S. Judicial Conference — the judiciary’s policymaking arm — to “take whatever steps are necessary to investigate this affair and provide the public with prompt and trustworthy answers.”

“Making public comments assessing the merits of a legal issue that could come before the court undoubtedly creates the very appearance of impropriety these rules are meant to protect against,” Whitehouse wrote.

The complaint comes amid increased scrutiny of Supreme Court ethics following recent news stories alleging potential conflicts of interest and ethical transgressions on the part of Alito and other justices.

ProPublica and other outlets have detailed Supreme Court justices’ undisclosed luxury travel on private jets, expensive overseas vacations and the use of public employees to help justices write books.

In a statement issued by the court during its previous term, the nine justices said that they voluntarily follow ethical guidelines that apply to lower court judges. Roberts pledged in May that the court was “committed to adhering to the highest standards of conduct.”

But Democrats argue that the highest court in the land is mired in an ethical crisis and that Congress needs to step in to set a standardized code for justices to follow.

The effort faces opposition from Republicans, who control the House and argue that the Supreme Court is under attack by liberals who disagree with the conservative tilt and recent decisions on gun control rights and federal abortion protections.

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