Sometime in 1991 (we’re unsure of the exact date), Supreme Court justices forged an internal agreement in which they agreed to comply with Judicial Conference regulations regarding gifts and outside income. Ironically, on Oct. 23 of that year, Clarence Thomas joined the court.
In the intervening 23-plus years, Justice Thomas has been one of the primary offenders when it comes to pushing the envelope regarding the 1991 agreement – and the 1978 Ethics in Government Act.
A few years back, we learned that Thomas “forgot” to report his wife’s income on his annual financial disclosure reports and that he received a gift valued at $15,000 from an interest group that frequently appears before the high court. (If there are no official rules, it’s hard to fault someone for not following said rules.)
While some have called on the court’s third-longest tenured justice to step down or recuse himself in certain cases due to these perceived missteps, we think, instead, that they underscore the need for something else – a formal code of conduct for the nation’s top judges to follow.
That’d be more becoming of the high court than a decades’ old gentlemen’s (and one gentlewoman’s) agreement. (And, even so, he probably shouldn’t have accepted the Lincoln bust in the first place.)
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.