Fix the Court calls on Roberts to announce his SCOTUS ethics code as part of this week’s Judicial Conference gathering
Six months after Chief Justice John Roberts was said to be studying whether the Supreme Court should have its own code of conduct, Fix the Court is asking him to release the code publicly should it exist, and if not, to get on with writing it.
Appearing before a House panel on March 7 to discuss the court’s budget, Justice Elena Kagan was asked by Rep. Norma Torres why there’s no ethics code and responded by breaking some news (at 1:04:50), “The Chief Justice is studying the question of whether to have a code of judicial conduct that’s applicable only to the United States Supreme Court.” She later added, “It’s something that’s being thought very seriously about.”
“The highest court should not be held to a lower standard,” FTC’s Gabe Roth said. “I’m pleased that the justices seem open to adopting a formal code of conduct, as the rest of the federal judiciary did several decades ago, and I expect one to be made public in short order. If not, Congress should intervene and write one for them.”
In addition to the recent headline-inducing scandals, each of the justices either has contravened the federal recusal statute, which does apply to the justices, or has flouted the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges, which covers all non-SCOTUS Article III judges and which the justices, on several occasions, have said they “consult” or “follow.”
For example, Roberts has failed to recuse from several cases in which companies whose shares he owned were involved; Justice Clarence Thomas has spoken at partisan events and has been flown around the country by major political donors; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke out against a presidential candidate; Justice Stephen Breyer has missed recusals and has been flown around the country by major political donors; Justice Samuel Alito has missed recusals and has spoken at fundraisers for partisan organizations; Justice Sonia Sotomayor failed to recuse from a case involving her publisher, which paid her nearly $2 million in advances; Kagan has missed recusals; Justice Neil Gorsuch spoke at a partisan event (at Trump Hotel, no less); and Justice Brett Kavanaugh accused Democrats of conspiring against him during his confirmation hearing.
Roberts is presiding over the semiannual meeting of the Judicial Conference, the third branch’s policymaking body, this week, and changes in judiciary policy are often announced following the meeting.
This Congress, four bills have been introduced that call for the creation of a Supreme Court code of conduct. The language in each of them is based on the text of the 2018 Judiciary ROOM Act, which last September became the first bill that included a high court ethics code ever to pass a House committee. Three of the four 2019 bills are Democratic-led bills, and one was introduced by Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania. The ROOM Act was introduced by four Republican members, though three of them retired at the end of last session.
The House Judiciary’s Courts Subcommittee held a hearing on judicial ethics and transparency on June 21, and all four panelists agreed on the need for a high court code of conduct. There was some disagreement, though, as to whether it was preferable for Congress or for the justices themselves to write the code.
Fix the Court would support either resolution to this longstanding oversight.