SCOTUS Unveils Code of Conduct

But it doesn't include any means of enforcement
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 13, 2023 3:54 PM CST
SCOTUS Unveils Code of Conduct
Members of the Supreme Court sit for a new group portrait following the addition of Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, at the Supreme Court building in Washington, Oct. 7, 2022.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The Supreme Court released a code of conduct for justices Monday to address what it described as a "misunderstanding" about ethics. A statement signed by all nine justices said that the rules and principle are not new, "for the most part," because the court "has long had the equivalent of common law ethics rules." "The absence of a Code, however, has led in recent years to the misunderstanding that the Justices of this Court, unlike all other jurists in this country, regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules," the statement said. "To dispel this misunderstanding, we are issuing this Code, which largely represents a codification of principles that we have long regarded as governing our conduct."

The code, released amid pressure from Democrats to reform court ethics, contains what the Washington Post describes as "broadly worded" sections on issues including fundraising, political activity, and financial activities including the acceptance of gifts. It does not, however, include any means of enforcement, with compliance left entirely up to the justices themselves, the AP reports. A poll last month found that public confidence in the court was close to an all-time low following multiple reports on ethical issues. Many reports looked at Justice Clarence Thomas' undisclosed gifts from wealthy donors, but questions were also raised about Justices Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor, the AP notes.

"The justices are clearly reacting to recent public criticism by formally adopting this code," says CNN Supreme Court analyst Steve Vladeck. "But the key is what's missing: how are these rules going to be enforced, and by whom? Even the most rigorous ethical and financial reporting requirements won't mean very much if there's no one monitoring the justices' compliance and no pushback when those rules are violated." The Post notes that a commentary released with the code suggests the court is still trying to resolve some issues. It states that Chief Justice John Roberts has asked court officers "to undertake an examination of best practices, drawing in part on the experience of other federal and state courts." (More US Supreme Court stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.