Search a 2006 report on ethics in the federal judiciary, and the words “Supreme Court” only appear when describing the role of one of its authors, Justice Stephen Breyer.
In 2004 Chief Justice William Rehnquist had appointed Breyer to head a commission to study how a 1980 judicial ethics law was being implemented. But in the commission’s report, which came out two years later, Breyer and his federal judge coauthors fail to acknowledge that the justices of the Supreme Court are the only federal judges exempt from the strictest of the judicial ethics rules promulgated at the end of the last century.
Interestingly, one of the report’s complaints is that “many courts do not use their websites to provide the public with information about the [ethics law] and about how to file a complaint” against a judge who may have violated the law.
Yet as of this writing, there is no direct link on the Supreme Court’s website to a form requesting that a justice sit out a certain case due to a perceived conflict of interests. (Search “recuse” on the site, and the first result is the Caperton v. Massey case, where four justices said a benefactor’s $3 million donation to a state supreme court judge wasn’t enough to require the judge to recuse himself in a case in which said benefactor was a defendant.)
Finally, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin have proposed the creation of a position within the judiciary called the Inspector General of the Federal Courts, which would have the authority to investigate allegations of misconduct of federal judges. But these bills have yet to make it out of committee.
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.