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R.I. Senator Whitehouse files ethics complaint against Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse in May.J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse accused Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito of violating judicial standards in public comments the justice made on ethics controversies surrounding the court, escalating a fight over the conservative court’s ethics.

Whitehouse took the unusual step of filing an ethics complaint against Alito with Chief Justice John Roberts, citing comments Alito made in a July interview with the Wall Street Journal’s opinion section in which the justice argued the US Constitution doesn’t allow Congress to regulate the court.

Whitehouse is the lead author of legislation to impose an ethics code on the high court after reports that Justice Clarence Thomas and Alito accepted but didn’t report gifts of lavish travel provided from prominent Republican donors.


“On the Senate Judiciary Committee, we have heard in every recent confirmation hearing that it would be improper to express opinions on matters that might come before the Court,” Whitehouse wrote to Roberts. “In this instance, Justice Alito expressed an opinion on a matter that could well come before the Court.”

Whitehouse, a Rhode Island senator, added that the comments seems to violate the code of conduct that governs federal judges and also appear to run against the Supreme Court’s own statement of ethical practices. He also said Alito’s remarks could embolden those who might obstruct probes by the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees into high-court ethics.

A spokesperson for the Supreme Court had no immediate response to a request for comment from Roberts and Alito on the letter, previously reported by the Washington Post.

The ethics legislation, which was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in July, faces formidable obstacles, with no Senate Republicans supporting it. Roberts earlier declined a request to come testify before the panel on Supreme Court ethics, and has rejected the idea that the court needs its own ethics code.