Senators ask Marshals Service for information on past Supreme Court justice travel
WASHINGTON – Two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are asking the Justice Department to provide information about where Supreme Court justices have traveled, asserting that the disclosure would improve transparency on the high court.
“The justices of our highest court are subject to the lowest standards of transparency of any senior officials across the federal government,” wrote Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and John Kennedy, R-La., in a June 4 letter made public Tuesday.
The request is directed at the U.S. Marshals Service, which provides judicial security – including assisting with security for Supreme Court justices when they travel domestically outside of Washington, D.C., the senators wrote in the letter.
Outside groups have pressed the court for additional travel disclosures. That push received renewed attention after the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016 at a Texas ranch owned by an attorney who previously had business at the court. The owner told the Washington Post then that Scalia was a guest and, like all the other guests at his ranch, did not pay for his stay.
Like others in the government, the justices do disclose trips that are reimbursed by outside entities. Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, for instance, frequently notes his travel to New York to judge the Pritzker Architecture Prize, paid for by a foundation that sponsors that award. Other justice routinely note their travel to speak at law schools.
But outside groups seeking additional transparency say the disclosure requirements do not include the cost of the trip or other attendees. The requirement also exempts justices from disclosing lodging and entertainment received as “personal hospitality.”
The senators want the Marshals Service, which is part of the Justice Department, to disclose information about trips taken outside of the nation’s capital, the dates of the trip and the cost to the agency for providing security.
Chief Justice John Roberts. (Photo: Erin Schaff, Pool)
Progressive groups have been pressing the Supreme Court for additional ethics measures, such as a code of conduct or requiring justices to be more forthcoming about the reasons they recuse themselves from cases. Some of those ideas have generated bipartisan interest – though few of them have gained real momentum in Congress.
Whitehouse is the chairman of the subcommittee with oversight of federal courts. Kennedy is the top-ranking Republican on that subcommittee.
Chief Justice John Roberts asserted in 2011 that Congress has no constitutional authority to impose a code of ethics on the high court. Associate Justice Elena Kagan told lawmakers in 2019 that Roberts was weighing a code of conduct but it’s not clear what, if any, progress has been made in the two years since.
Nodding to the fact that federal security agencies are generally unwilling to disclose any information about that work, Whitehouse and Kennedy said they would honor requests to redact personally identifiable information about the justices and their families.
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