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Whitehouse and Kennedy request Supreme Court travel records

Request is part of a deeper review of senior government officials' disclosures

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.,  at an April 28 Judiciary Committee hearing.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., at an April 28 Judiciary Committee hearing. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Corrected 12:08 P.M. | Two key senators want travel records of Supreme Court justices as part of a broader congressional look at financial disclosure standards for the receipt of gifts, travel and other financial gains by senior government officials.

Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy asked the Justice Department and the U.S. Marshals Service last week for information and documents about the last 10 years of trips for members of the high court.

The Supreme Court Police handles protection for the justices in the Washington metropolitan area. But the justices can request security from the Marshals Service, which is part of the Justice Department, for other domestic travel.

Whitehouse and Kennedy, in a letter sent Friday, asked the Marshals Service for “all documents” related to those trips, the name of the justice who traveled, where the trips were, and the cost to taxpayers.

That information will “help us assess how disclosures by members of the Court accord with the judicial branch’s disclosure standards, and to improve the consistency of disclosure standards across the three branches,” Whitehouse and Kennedy wrote.

Whitehouse is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action and Federal Rights; Kennedy is the top Republican on that panel.

A nonprofit group obtained similar records through a public records request in 2018 and found examples of security for trips to the theater for Justice Sonia Sotomayor and a night at the opera for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but security for only one part of the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s fateful hunting trip to western Texas in February 2016 when he died.

Such trips could raise concerns about conflicts of interest when the justices have their expenses paid. Scalia, who went on 259 expenses-paid trips from 2004 to 2014, was staying for free at a hunting lodge owned by a businessman whose company had recently had a matter before the Supreme Court, The New York Times reported at the time.

The judicial branch has less stringent guidelines on reporting requirements than the executive branch and both chambers of Congress, and those don’t even formally apply to the Supreme Court justices, the letter from Whitehouse and Kennedy points out.

Whitehouse sent a letter to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. on a similar issue in February, along with South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, also a member of the Judiciary Committee.

At that time, Whitehouse and Graham wrote to Roberts that “a legislative solution may be in order to bring the judiciary’s financial disclosure requirements in line with other branches of government if the Court does not address the issue itself.”

Among their questions: What steps the Supreme Court takes to identify or prevent the justices from receiving gifts, travel or hospitality from those who may have business before the court, and what plans the Supreme Court has to make justices’ financial disclosures more accessible to the public.

Roberts has not responded to that letter, a Whitehouse spokesman said.

This report was corrected to accurately reflect the date the senators wrote to the U.S. Marshals Service.

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