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Being “Supreme” Exempts RBG, Colleagues from Ethics Code. But Should It?

How do you reconcile the fact that the Supreme Court is, by definition, “supreme” with the fact that the Constitution was written with a system of checks and balances?

(Note: The most powerful “check” that the justices have on the legislative branch, the concept of “judicial review,” in which the court can invalidate congressional actions, wasn’t established until 1803 in Marbury v. Madison, so the court has evidently sanctioned post-constitutional checks on the powers of federal officials.)

In any case, it’s clear which side of the equation with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg comes out on. When Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa proposed that an office of inspector general be created within the federal judiciary in 2006, Justice Ginsburg likened his proposal to Stalinism, saying that such oversight “is a really scary idea” that “sounds to me very much like [how] the Soviet Union was.”

But every federal judge – save the nine at the Supreme Court – has a code of conduct that he or she is required to follow, and various congressional proposals have been floated as a means to ensure the federal judges who serve on the high court uphold these basic responsibilities.

Whether or not Justice Ginsburg sticks around at One First Street long enough to be subject to such a code, should this proposal pass Congress, is an open question. But it’s clear (and unfortunate) where she generally stands on the issue.

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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