Opinion: Sheldon Whitehouse vs. the Supreme Court

Sheldon Whitehouse is back. The senator, who threatened retribution to the Supreme Court in 2019 over gun rights case, is now threatening congressional action if the judges fail to follow his instructions on how to conduct legal proceedings.

On Wednesday, the Rhode Island Democrat will hold a Judicial Committee hearing on “What’s Wrong with the Supreme Court: The Big Bucks Assault on Our Justice.” Subtlety is not Sheldon’s specialty. The hearing is intended to push his amicus law, which would force the court to change its rules on amicus pleadings, which invite judges to inform them of the law and the facts in cases.

Notice the disregard of the court. The title of the hearing signals a foregone conclusion that the judges are corrupted by money. This is an on-going issue with Mr Whitehouse, whose concern in the Senate has been to undermine the independence of the judiciary and limit the right of private individuals to adjust to influence their government.

The Supreme Court already has a rule – 37.6 – that governs amicus filings. It requires that Amicus briefs “indicate whether the lawyer of a party” involved in the litigation “authored” or “made a financial contribution” in order to prepare the letter. It also requires disclosure of “any person other than the amicus, its members or legal counsel who has made such a monetary contribution”.

Mr Whitehouse wants to go further and require amicus filers to disclose all of their donors. This would hit groups on the left and right who are not required to disclose their donors but have academics or legal experts filing pleadings. The Chamber of Commerce and the NAACP would have to disclose all of their donors when submitting pleadings. This would deter some claimants and thus provide the Court of Justice with less full information, or it would open donors to political harassment for these groups – from the likes of Mr Whitehouse and his political allies.

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