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Should the Chief Justice Monitor His Colleagues’ Conduct?

If a Supreme Court justice makes the wrong call, whose responsibility is it to right the wrong?

We’re not talking about “wrong calls” on individual cases. We’ll leave that up to the pundits to debate. Given the headline, we’re talking about ethics issues here. If a justice fails to recuse him or herself from a case – remember, the decision to sit out is up to each justice alone, though in practice the justices often consult with their colleagues – whose responsibility is it to push the issue?

Legal interest group Judicial Watch believes that the buck stops with the chief justice. After Justice Elena Kagan refused to recuse on NFIB v. Sebelius, the 2012 Obamacare case, they went so far as to call for the impeachment of Chief Justice John Roberts. (They also wanted to impeach Roberts because they felt he wrongly decided the case, but that’s an issue for another time.)

No impeachment proceedings occurred, but the larger point of Judicial Watch’s lawsuit is that there is a leadership vacuum at the high court when it comes to basic ethical issues.

While it’s true that the chief justice casts a single vote on each case the court hears, just like every other justice, on issues relating to the justices’ integrity that affect the way the court is viewed by the public, we’d agree with Judicial Watch that he should take a larger leadership role moving forward – no matter what he may have thought of Kagan’s lack of recusal.

Fix the Court is calling on Chief Justice Roberts and his colleagues to formally adopt the code of ethics – called the Code of Conduct for United States Judges – that all other federal judges are required to follow. Should they demur, we believe Congress has the authority to compel the justices to adopt the code.

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