US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey and Representative Ayanna Pressley were in Boston on Monday to help kick off a 20-city tour to push for tighter ethical standards for Supreme Court justices amid recent scrutiny of Justice Clarence Thomas’s close relationship with a billionaire GOP donor and the court’s rulings on abortion.
The Massachusetts lawmakers joined members of the advocacy group organizing the tour, Just Majority, for a news briefing in Copley Square.
“The court must take action in order to rebuild its legitimacy by enforcing its own recusal rules, adopting a binding code of conduct, strengthening restrictions on gifts of privately funded travel, and increasing the transparency of justices’ financial dealings and interests,” Markey told reporters.
He called for Thomas to resign after recent revelations of the lavish gifts he accepted from the donor.
”His reputation is unsalvageable,” Markey said. “It is evident that he cannot judge right from wrong, so why should he be judging the country’s most important cases on its highest court?”
Warren and Markey called for the addition of four seats to the court. The expansion would be constitutional, and the number of justices has changed multiple times in the past, Warren said.
”I don’t want to mess with the Supreme Court,” Warren said. “But the Supreme Court is messing with our democracy. Make no mistake, the Supreme Court faces a crisis of legitimacy. The Constitution gives Congress the ability to check the Supreme Court’s power, including by changing its size, no constitutional amendment.”
Speakers stood in front of a large black bus with the message “Democracy demands a fair, ethical court” emblazoned in bright letters across the side. The Just Majority campaign will seek to mobilize voters and communities as it travels across the country, Pressley said.
”I’m here with my partners in government and community to organize and mobilize to enact common sense reforms to our highest judicial court,” Pressley said. “We deserve and demand a Supreme Court representative of the people and capable of upholding the law.”
Pressley’s office said the nationwide bus tour will “highlight ethical lapses and partisan rulings by the Supreme Court and . . . make the case for major judicial reform.”
David Hogg, a survivor of a Florida school shooting and gun control advocate, said “all of us agree the highest court should not be sold to the highest bidder.”
“Unfortunately, that is not the case in this country right now,” Hogg said. “Every young person that hears me today has to know that change is possible.”
Warren recently wrote on Twitter about the need to reform the high court.
“Abortion rights,” Warren wrote. “Gun violence prevention. Consumer protection. Climate change. Voting rights. Our democracy demands a fair & ethical Supreme Court. I’m proud to work alongside @SenMarkey, @RepPressley & a growing coalition organizing for a just majority.”
Abortion rights. Gun violence prevention. Consumer protection. Climate change. Voting rights. Our democracy demands a fair & ethical Supreme Court. I'm proud to work alongside @SenMarkey, @RepPressley & a growing coalition organizing for a just majority. https://t.co/2C8dpoSn1p— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) April 20, 2023
Separately, the Boston Bar Association said last week it had endorsed a resolution urging the high court to adopt “a binding code” of judicial ethics.
“We have been moved by the troubling trend of declining public faith in the institution of the Supreme Court,” association president Chinh Pham said in a statement.
“The rule of law, which is foundational to democracy itself, depends heavily on trust in the impartiality and transparency of the judiciary,” Pham said. “And while this step alone may not fully restore lost confidence in the nation’s highest court, it would at least signal that the justices share our concern that their conduct must be held to the highest standard.”