Press Release

Welch Joins Blumenthal, Schumer and Colleagues in Introducing Legislation to Shine Light on the Supreme Court’s Shadow Docket 

May 30, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, cosponsored the Shadow Docket Sunlight Act, new legislation introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), to bring transparency to decisions on the Supreme Court’s procedural docket, also called the “shadow docket.” 

The Shadow Docket Sunlight Act requires a written explanation and vote count for any decision concerning injunctive relief, including decisions on the Supreme Court’s shadow docket, to provide clarity and consistency to judicial decision-making. In addition to requiring the Supreme Court to provide a written explanation for shadow docket decisions and to indicate how each Justice voted on the decision by providing a vote count, the Shadow Docket Sunlight Act also requires the Federal Judicial Center to report to Congress annually on the Court’s compliance with the law. 

“The American public’s trust in our Supreme Court and our democracy is eroded. When our highest court increasingly relies on the shadow docket to advance a conservative agenda, that only further chips away at that trust,” said Senator Welch. “Transparency is more important than ever. The Shadow Docket Sunlight Act holds the Court accountable and ensures everyday people aren’t kept in the dark when it comes to unexplained decisions on our highest court.” 

“Americans deserve a public explanation and vote count for highly consequential decisions that the Supreme Court now issues increasingly on its shadow docket,” said Senator Blumenthal. “Our Shadow Docket Sunlight Act would open these decisions to greater public view and scrutiny— literally bringing light and accountability to outcomes of important cases now handed down in peremptory silence. It would help raise and restore the stature and credibility of the Court by imposing more transparency and public understanding. Sunlight can be a source of heightened trust for an institution whose public reputation for integrity and independence has been plummeting. Americans deserve this minimum measure of accountability from the nation’s highest court.” 

“Senate Democrats have been working to bring accountability to the courts,” said Senator Schumer. “The American people need to be able to trust our judicial system, and the Supreme Court is no exception. The Shadow Docket Sunlight Act would add much-needed transparency and truth to the process. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and there is no reason that the Supreme Court should be making decisions that are so very consequential to our country in the shadows.” 

In addition to Senators Welch, Blumenthal, and Majority Leader Schumer, the bill is also cosponsored by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). 

The Shadow Docket Sunlight Act is endorsed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Project on Government Oversight (POGO), Fix the Court, Demand Justice, Stand Up America, and Court Accountability. 

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Welch continues to push for transparency and ethics reform at the U.S. Supreme Court. Last week, Welch urged SCOTUS Justice Samuel Alito’s recusal from cases involving the 2020 election and January 6 insurrection following reports of two instances where flags bearing symbols carried by violent rioters were flown at properties owned by Justice Alito.  

Following the Supreme Court’s adoption of a Code of Conduct in November, Sen. Welch called for further information about the Code, stating that our work is not done until we have assured the American public that there is a transparent and enforceable system in place to prevent future ethical violations. Last year, Sen. Welch spoke on the Senate Floor to highlight the erosion of trust in the integrity of the Supreme Court, and how it hurts the public’s trust in our democracy and the judicial system.  

Senator Welch is a cosponsor of the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act of 2023, which the Judiciary Committee advanced this summer with unanimous Democratic support. The legislation requires the Supreme Court to adopt a code of conduct, establish a mechanism to investigate breaches of that code, recuse themselves when they have conflicts of interest in cases, and disclose gifts and income, among other provisions.  

Senator Welch has a long history of expressing concerns about reports relating to potential ethics violations by Justices of the Supreme Court, including joining 45 of his then-House colleagues in an October 2011 letter to the House Judiciary Committee urging the investigation of outstanding ethical questions surrounding the court. 

Read and download the full text of the bill.