Supreme Court Might Get a Code of Ethics Thanks to Clarence Thomas

Supreme Court justices are the only judges in the United States not forced to abide by a formal ethics code, but that could change as a result of the controversy surrounding Clarence Thomas.

The 74-year-old senior justice is facing calls to recuse himself from cases related to the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol after text messages revealed that his wife, Virginia Thomas, expressed support for efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi added her voice to the choir on Thursday, telling reporters: "If your wife is an admitted and proud contributor to a coup of our country, maybe you should weigh that in your ethical standards."

The Democratic leader also said that the House of Representatives should pass a stand-alone piece of legislation to create an ethics code for the high court. Such a measure is included in the For the People Act, a massive election reform bill passed by the chamber last year but has since languished in the Senate.

Supreme Court May Finally Get Ethics Code
Lawmakers are calling for the Supreme Court to adopt an ethics code amid the controversy with Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Virginia. Above, the U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, D.C., on February 25, 2022. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

"They have no code of ethics," Pelosi said. "Really? It's the Supreme Court of the United States. They're making judgments about the air we breathe and everything else, and we don't even know what their ethical standard is?"

Pelosi said a hearing on the issue could come "pretty soon" so the court can have a clear standard. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has also suggested it's time for the bench to have an ethics code.

Researchers with the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit law and public policy institute, recently argued that it's "long past time for a Supreme Court code of conduct—one that anti­cip­ates the poten­tial for lawless­ness by the justices them­selves."

Last week, the Washington Post and CBS News unearthed more than a dozen text exchanges involving Virginia Thomas. Some were sent to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, including a message that read: "Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!...You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America's constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History."

A bill to require the creation of a code of conduct for Supreme Court justices was introduced in 2019. Senator Chris Murphy said at the time that the U.S. was "teetering on the edge of a very dangerous politicization of the Supreme Court."

On Thursday, Murphy said he was "on the way to the Senate floor to talk about my Supreme Court Ethics Act and the need for the Supreme Court to adopt a binding Code of Conduct. The Thomas revelations make it clear—the Supreme Court cannot and should not police itself."

A Gallup poll showed trust in the court is at a low. Americans who express "a great deal" or "fair amount" of trust in the judicial branch fell to 54 percent last year, the second-lowest reading since the 1970s.

Newsweek reached out to the Supreme Court for comment but didn't receive a response in time for publication.