U.S. Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

U.S. Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) attend an ethics roundtable discussion held by the Democrats on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee on June 11, 2024 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Andrew Harnik/Getty Images)

AOC, Raskin Announce Bill to Rein in 'Captured and Corrupted' Supreme Court

"A group of anti-democratic billionaires with their own ideological and economic agenda has been working one of the three co-equal branches of government," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

To rein in what he called "the highest court in the land with the lowest ethical standards," U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin on Tuesday evening joined Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in announcing plans to introduce legislation to bar Supreme Court justices from accepting gifts worth more than $50, matching a ban for members of Congress.

Announced after a roundtable discussion with several legal experts on the pattern of ethics violations at the court, the legislation would be the latest attempt by progressive lawmakers to constrain right-wing justices including Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.

Raskin (D-Md.) and Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) helped lead the roundtable discussion held by the House Oversight and Accountability Committee on Tuesday afternoon, where topics included right-wing billionaire Harlan Crow's funding of luxury vacations for Thomas—which the justice officially disclosed last week after it was first reported by ProPublica last year—and a fishing trip taken by Alito and paid for by hedge fund manager Paul Singer, who later had business before the court.

Speaking on MSNBC's "All In with Chris Hayes" after the roundtable, Raskin said that with the Supreme Court remaining "the only governmental officials in the land who are not governed by a binding ethics code," he and Ocasio-Cortez decided to introduce legislation "that the whole country will be able to understand immediately and intuitively."

"We want a $50 gift ban for U.S. Supreme Court justices," said Raskin. "They make $300,000 a year. Pay for your own lunch and pay for your own vacation."

Last fall, the Supreme Court introduced an ethics code for justices for the first time, but court reform groups have criticized the fact that it lacks an enforcement mechanism.

At the roundtable discussion on Tuesday, Alex Aronson, executive director of Court Accountability, told Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) that the ethics code has "no teeth or function. It just serves as a way to get people to stop complaining and keep with the status quo."

The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), has called on Alito in recent weeks to recuse himself from cases involving the 2020 election and former President Donald Trump, following reporting that Alito's family displayed two flags that have been embraced by the "Stop the Steal" movement, which baselessly claims Trump was the rightful winner of the presidential election.

Alito has refused to recuse himself, as has Thomas, whose wife supported efforts to overturn the 2020 election in favor of Trump. Last year, Hayes noted in his interview with Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez, Alito said Congress "has no ability to regulate [Supreme Court justices] whatsoever."

Ocasio-Cortez warned Alito's position that the judiciary is unaccountable to the other co-equal branches of government would pave "the path to authoritarianism, tyranny, and abuse of power."

"It's not a question of if Congress has jurisdiction and power over the Supreme Court, it is, 'What power are we going to exercise in order to rein in a fundamentally unaccountable and rogue court?'" said Ocasio-Cortez.

At the roundtable, the congresswoman said that the court has been "delegitimizing itself through its conduct," including the latest revelations regarding Alito, who was caught on tape at an event this month agreeing with an undercover documentary filmmaker that the U.S. needs to return to "a place of godliness."

The tape was released Monday, ahead of an expected Supreme Court ruling on whether the Food and Drug Administration's approval of mifepristone, an abortion pill, should be revoked. The case was brought by conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom.

"A group of anti-democratic billionaires with their own ideological and economic agenda has been working one of the three co-equal branches of government," Ocasio-Cortez said at the roundtable. "Americans are losing fundamental rights in the process, reproductive healthcare, civil liberties, voting rights, the right to organize, clean air and water because the court has been captured and corrupted by money and extremism."

Last month the congresswoman called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to open a formal investigation into the display of the two pro-insurrection flags at Alito's homes.

Indivisible co-founder Ezra Levin said Tuesday evening that while it is "great" that progressive members of the House minority are addressing the tools they have to hold the Supreme Court accountable, "it's embarrassing the Senate Judiciary chair isn't demonstrating half the interest or effort."

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