Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Louise Slaughter introduced the Supreme Court Ethics Act today to compel the justices to adopt a professional code of ethics. Currently, the justices are the only federal jurists exempt from the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges, which has origins dating back a century and ensures transparency and neutrality in the judiciary.
Fix the Court executive director Gabe Roth said: “The justices are fond of saying that no body within the federal judiciary can compel them to act since, as justices, they technically outrank every judicial council and conference. But too often they neglect the important oversight role Congress plays when it comes to their institution.”
“Requiring the justices themselves to promulgate a code as the bill states,” Roth added, “is actually a fair compromise between Congress’ statutory authority and the justices’ own insights on the types of ethics rules that should apply to them given their unique place in the constitutional order.”
While none of the justices has committed a removal offense, all are culpable of various ethical oversights, from leaving assets off their financial disclosure reports to speaking at partisan fundraisers to ruling on cases despite credible conflicts of interest.
Enacting a binding code would create uniformity around thorny issues like recusals and participation in political activities and would bring the institution closer to the public’s expectations of accountability from government officials.
The justices could easily adopt an ethics code tomorrow, but since they won’t, the responsibility falls to Congress, which has broad constitutional authority over the court, to step in.