Raskin, Ocasio-Cortez Introduce Legislation Imposing Gift Ban on Supreme Court Justices

Legislation would prohibit federal judges and Supreme Court justices from accepting gifts valued at more than $50, bringing them in line with Members of Congress and other federal officials

June 25, 2024

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Representatives Jamie Raskin (MD-08) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) introduced the High Court Gift Ban Act to prohibit Supreme Court justices from receiving gifts valued at more than $50, marking a significant step towards restoring faith and integrity in the embattled Roberts Court. 

“The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land but has the lowest ethical standards, which means pay-to-play billionaires, right-wing dark money groups and carbon-emitting special interests have freedom to purchase the best justice money can buy,” said Rep. Raskin. “Congress can’t stand idly by as this emboldened and imperious Court pursues a lawless right-wing agenda and strips our citizens of their Constitutional rights. Our legislation is an essential first step in bringing some accountability to, and restoring the integrity and reputation of, the Supreme Court.” 

“It's simple, the Supreme Court—which holds the immense power to shape our rights and freedoms—is embroiled in a major corruption crisis. It is appalling that the members of the highest court in the land have been accepting millions of dollars in unreported gifts and transactions from parties with interests before the court. The High Court Gift Ban Act is a commonsense solution to address the deeply troubling and unethical influence dark money is having on our nation's highest judicial body. This is not about politics—it's about safeguarding the strength and integrity of our democracy,” said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. ? 

The legislation bans justices from receiving gifts valued at more than $50 in a single instance or more than $100 in aggregate over the course of a year. It would also cap gifts of personal hospitality, which are currently unregulated, at a value equal to the tax threshold for personal gifts, currently about $18,000. This brings the Supreme Court in line with similar ethical standards applying to Members of Congress and other federal officials. 

Fix the Court's Gabe Roth said: “In response to this bill, Supreme Court justices and lower court judges might say, 'We already have gift rules!' which may technically be true, but given the jet-sized loopholes in the existing laws and regulations, aren't they more like 'gift suggestions'? This bill fixes that by banning the acceptance of gifts by judicial officers, significantly narrowing the personal hospitality exemption and sending a clear message: all government officials, no matter which branch they serve in, must follow the highest of ethical standards. I'm grateful to the drafters and co-sponsors for bringing the proposal to light.” 

“While the Supreme Court’s corruption crisis continues to grow, the High Court Gift Ban Act offers a commonsense solution by asking that Justices be held to the same gift rules as sitting members of Congress. This is a no-brainer bill that everyone who believes in ethics and accountability should support,” said Accountable.US president Caroline Ciccone. “We’re proud to endorse this important piece of legislation, introduced by leaders Rep. Raskin and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, and the other original cosponsors, to restore some semblance of integrity and legitimacy to our nation’s highest court.” 

“Supreme Court justices like Clarence Thomas shouldn't be able to accept gifts like extravagant vacations, private jet travel, or luxury RVs, particularly from billionaires with interests before them. The High Court Gift Ban Act would put fair limits on what gifts the justices can accept. This common-sense legislation would simply subject justices to the same ethics rules that other government officials have followed for decades, and in a sane world it would garner broad bipartisan support. We applaud Congressman Raskin and Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez for their leadership in working to restore the integrity of the judiciary,” said Alex Aronson, Executive Director, Court Accountability. 

“Americans deserve a Supreme Court that rules impartially and free from conflicts of interest,” said Aaron Scherb, senior director of legislative affairs at Common Cause. “Common Cause was one of the first to sound the alarm about previously unreported gifts by Supreme Court justices in the early 2010s, and it’s only gotten worse since then. We commend the leadership of Representatives Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez for introducing the High Court Gift Ban Act to ensure that Supreme Court justices would have to abide by the same gift rules as many other government employees already do, and we urge Congress to swiftly pass this bill.” 

“We prohibit lavish gifts to pretty much everyone in the federal government, whether an intern or a senator, for obvious reasons. Why would some of the most powerful and least accountable members of our government be any different? It’s like slapping a ‘bribe me’ sign on the doors of the Supreme Court. Subjecting the justices to the same anti-corruption rules as everyone else should be the biggest no-brainer of all time. Every lawmaker in Congress should follow Representatives Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez’s lead in supporting this commonsense bill,” said Sarah Lipton-Lubet, president of Take Back the Court Action Fund. 

“By accepting—and refusing to disclose—millions of dollars worth of gifts, right-wing Supreme Court justices have created a crisis of confidence in our highest court,” said End Citizens United // Let America Vote Action Fund President Tiffany Muller. “The High Court Gift Ban Act addresses this corruption by capping the value of gifts justices can receive, effectively closing a giant loophole. This legislation is a crucial step towards stopping billionaires from using blatant pay-to-play schemes to buy outcomes at the Supreme Court. We thank Representatives Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez for their continued work to root out corruption and reform the Supreme Court.” 

Ben Clements, Chairman and Senior Legal Advisor, Free Speech For People said, “Public officials -- from Members of Congress to governors to plumbing inspectors -- are prohibited from taking gifts of substantial value, while Supreme Court justices are accepting millions of dollars worth of gifts from billionaires seeking to influence their decisions.? The Court’s failure to police its own members, while simultaneously abdicating its duty to uphold the Constitution, in favor of protecting the interests of the rich and powerful, demonstrates the urgent need for Congressional oversight.? Representatives Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed gift ban is an essential first step in reigning in a dangerously rogue and corrupt Supreme Court.” 

“Across the political spectrum, Americans are eager for Congress to use its power to stop the Supreme Court from playing by its own outrageous rules. We thank Reps. Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez for introducing the High Court Gift Ban Act and for their fearless leadership in reining in a Court that appears utterly uninterested in following even the most basic ethics standards,” said Maggie Jo Buchanan, Managing Director of Demand Justice

“The U.S. Supreme Court should be the epitome of ethical standards; that is what is required for our democracy to sustain itself. Yet increasingly certain members are defying that moral and legal north star. A high court that sets its own ethics rules and sees no problem with judges being wined and dined by the wealthy and well-connected is an insult to the American people it is supposed to serve. Rep. Raskin’s High Court Gift Ban Act would establish a commonsense ban on gifts to Supreme Court justices. This is something all Americans, no matter their politics, should agree on. Congress should pass this bill as soon as possible and finally confront the corruption and conflicts that erode the essence of the judicial system, and with it, democracy itself,” said Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers. 

“The Supreme Court is mired in an ethical crisis. By stopping luxury gifts to the justices and holding the Court to the same standard as Congress, this bill would restore some trust in our nation’s highest court,” said Brett Edkins, Managing Director for Politics and Political Affairs at Stand Up America. “The High Court Gift Ban Act would close ethical loopholes exploited by Justices Thomas and Alito to enrich themselves and live like their billionaire benefactors. We applaud Representatives Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez for championing this critical reform.” 

“The highest court should not be held to the lowest standard. Rampant acceptance of luxury travel and other gifts have made clear that the Supreme Court cannot police itself - and so it’s high time the Court bring itself in line with every other branch of government where acceptance of such lavish gifts is prohibited. We applaud Congressman Raskin’s introduction of the High Court Gift Ban Act today. It is a sensible proposal needed to protect the independence of the judiciary,” said Sarah Turberville, Director of The Constitution Project at the Project On Government Oversight.  

“The repeated ethics scandals plaguing the Supreme Court shows how easily justices can accept gifts from well-funded activists with impunity, allowing them to buy and sell access to the highest court in the land," said Debra Perlin, Policy Director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Supreme Court justices should be bound by ethical rules like every other government employee. The High Court Gift Ban Act, introduced by Representatives Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez, aims to fix this by instituting clear standards that would govern the solicitation and acceptance of gifts by judicial officers, including Supreme Court Justices. Importantly, this legislation would cap the value of gifts they are allowed to receive. We applaud the introduction of this bill and urge Congress to pass it swiftly.” 

“We applaud Reps. Jamie Raskin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for introducing the “High Court Gift Ban” which will cap the value of gifts Supreme Court justices are allowed to receive and bring them in line with rules that govern members of Congress.  This bill will provide stricter ethics rules for Supreme Court justices, subjecting them to the same ethical standards governing every other high-ranking public servant. We call on Congress to quickly pass the “High Court Gift Ban.” Additionally, we need the Senate to continue to confirm more ethical, diverse, fair-minded, and highly-qualified judicial nominees who possess a demonstrated record of protecting the rights of all people in order to bolster accountability and transparency and enhance public trust in our judiciary” said Angel Padilla, Vice President for Strategy & Policy, National Women's Law Center

“We extend our heartfelt thanks to Representatives Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez for their leadership and dedication to preserving judicial impartiality and upholding constitutional values,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, Board Chair, FFRF Action Fund.? “Prohibiting federal judges from accepting substantial gifts is crucial for ensuring that judges are not influenced by external sources. They need to make decisions based on the law and facts, rather than personal gain. Such impartiality is fundamental to upholding the essential wall of separation between state and church, because it ensures that biases do not corrupt judicial decisions.” 

The Supreme Court—unlike the rest of the federal judiciary, Congress, and executive branch officers and employees—does not have a binding code of ethics. As reported in ProPublica and elsewhere, this loophole has enabled special interests to flood the Court with gifts worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars like luxury vacations or boarding school tuition for relatives. The High Court Gift Ban Act seeks to reverse course on these patterns of conduct with a basic, blanket ban on accepting gifts. 

The High Court Gift Ban Act is cosponsored by Representatives Nikki Budzinski (IL-13), André Carson (IN-07), Sean Casten (IL-06), Gerry Connolly (VA-11), Angie Craig (MN-2), Jasmine Crockett (TX-30), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Valerie Foushee (NC-4), Robert Garcia (CA-42), Dan Goldman           (NY-10), Jonathan Jackson (IL-01), Hank Johnson (GA-04), Daniel Kildee (MI-05), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Summer Lee (PA-12), Kevin Mullin (CA-15), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Delia Ramirez (IL-03), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Adam Smith (WA-09), Melanie Stansbury (NM-01), Eric Swalwell (CA-14), Rashida Tlaib (MI-12), Paul Tonko (NY-20), Ritchie Torres (NY-15), and Nikema Williams (GA-05). 

The High Court Gift Ban Act is endorsed by leading advocacy organizations from an array of backgrounds, including Accountable.US; AFT; Alliance for Justice; American Humanist Association; Center for American Progress; Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington?(CREW); Clean Elections Texas (CETex); Common Cause; Courage California; Court Accountability; Courts Matter Illinois; Demand Justice; DemCast USA; Demos Action; End Citizens United/Let America Vote Action Fund; Enough of Gun Violence; Equality California; Faithful Democracy; Fix the Court; Free Speech For People; FFRF Action Fund; Get Money Out – Maryland; Greenpeace USA; Indivisible; League of Conservation Voters; Michiganders for Fair & Transparent Elections; MoveOn; National Association of Consumer Advocates; National Association of Social Workers; National Women's Law Center; NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice; Ohio Fair Courts Alliance; P Street; People For the American Way; People Power United; Project on Government Oversight; Public Citizen; Reproductive Freedom for All; Secular Coalition for America; Secure Elections Network; Stand Up America; Supreme Court Integrity Project; Take Back the Court Action Fund; True North Research; Walking To Fix Our Democracy; Voices for Progress and Earthjustice.

On June 11, Representatives Raskin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also hosted a roundtable with expert panelists, including Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), entitled “High Court, Low Standards, and Dark Money: Flagging a Supreme Court Ethics Crisis in America,” to examine corruption on the court. On June 20, Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez wrote a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts to learn what immediate action he will take to restore public trust in the Court amidst severe ethical conflicts.

The bill text can be found here.