What to Know in Washington: Thomas Gifts Spur SCOTUS Ethics Push

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Revelations that Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife accepted lavish trips around the world from a billionaire GOP donor over two decades are prompting calls for new ethics rules for the Supreme Court’s nine jurists — who enjoy both immense power and life tenure.

Photographer: Eric Lee/Bloomberg

“As long as nine justices are exempt from any process for enforcing basic ethics, public faith in the Supreme Court will continue to decline, and dark money and special interests will maintain their relentless grip on our democracy,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Whitehouse is sponsoring (S. 359) bill to require justices to adopt and follow a code of ethics that would be reviewed by appellate court judges. The bill would also force justices to disclose more information about gifts and travel.

Other legislation (H.R. 927, and S. 325) from Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), would create a Supreme Court ethics officer and set up a process for filing complaints against the justices for ethical violations.

But even if it succeeds, the legislative effort could find itself at the mercy of the court, which has suggested Congress might not have the constitutional power to impose ethics rules on the justices. Read more from Greg Stohr and Emily Birnbaum.

Transgender, Tennessee Culture Wars Reach White House

Biden Proposal Aims to Limit School Bans on Transgender Athletes

The Biden administration is proposing a rule that would prevent public schools and universities from issuing complete bans on transgender students competing in sports, pushing back on Republican efforts to impose restrictions on their participation.

The Department of Education aims to change Title IX regulations to prohibit schools from adopting or applying “a one-size-fits-all policy that categorically bans transgender students from participating on teams consistent with their gender identity,” according to a fact sheet released Thursday summarizing the proposal.

Schools would have flexibility to develop criteria for eligible students based on the level of competition or to prevent sports-related injuries, but those criteria “could not be premised on disapproval of transgender students or a desire to harm a particular student.”

“Every student should be able to have the full experience of attending school in America, including participating in athletics, free from discrimination,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement.

Earlier Thursday, the US Supreme Court allowed a 12-year-old transgender girl to continue competing on her middle school track team in West Virginia, despite a state measure that allows participation on girls’ squads only for people classified at birth as female. The ruling likely gives the administration legal backing to pursue its new policy.

Republican Lawmakers Expel Democrats After Nashville Gun Protest

Republican lawmakers in Tennessee expelled two Democratic colleagues in retaliation for their participation in a gun-reform protest from the House floor last week, sparking a furious response from the White House.

Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin Pearson of Memphis, both Black men, were stripped of their seats on Thursday in the first partisan expulsion in the body’s history.

The ouster required a two-thirds majority to pass in the chamber where Republicans hold a 75-to-24 majority. A third Democrat, Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, a White woman, kept her seat by just one vote.

The extraordinary vote came after the Democratic lawmakers used a bullhorn from the House speaking well on March 30 to address hundreds of protesters, many of them schoolchildren. They were demonstrating in response to the March 27 killings of three 9-year-olds and three adults at a Nashville Christian school by a former student using a semi-automatic weapon.


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To contact the reporters on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com; Michaela Ross in Washington at mross@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Katrice Eborn at keborn@bgov.com

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