Mr. Johnson and his Senate counterpart with responsibility for oversight of the courts, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, are pressing legislation that would require the Supreme Court, which is exempt from the ethics rules imposed on others in the federal judiciary, to adopt a code of conduct or see one imposed by Congress.
The measure also would set new standards for recusal from cases and establish financial disclosure rules in line with those established for Congress.
Mr. Whitehouse said he believed a deep Judiciary Committee review of the court was warranted.
“It is our intention to get the bottom of this and let the public know that this is a Supreme Court that has no place to file a complaint, no process to do an investigation, no means to find the facts, no process for coming up with a final report and no ultimate determination,” said Mr. Whitehouse, a sharp critic of the court and campaigns to place conservative justices on it.
The Supreme Court has denied any wrongdoing and has long asserted its ability to police itself and keep its distance from congressional intervention, given its status as a separate branch of government.
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How far Congress can go in imposing its will on the court is an open question. In a letter to the lawmakers, the legal counsel at the court reiterated Justice Alito’s denial that anything untoward happened. The letter also said that unspecified “relevant rules” prevent gifts from influencing a justice’s opinions and allow the justices to have personal friendships.
Republicans will be taking control of the House next month, and it is unlikely they will have the same interest in scrutinizing the court, but Democrats will retain control of Senate committees and could press the issue. Some Senate Republicans have expressed a willingness to at least explore the idea of new ethics rules for the court, though they are suspicious of Democratic motives and their authority in the matter.
“I’m a bit leery one branch can begin to have that much influence on the other, but I’m open-minded if there are things we need to do,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a senior member of the Judiciary Committee. “I would be a bit reluctant, but we will see what the agenda includes.”