SCOTUS Announces First Formal Ethics Code

SCOTUS Announces First Formal Ethics Code

( – The US Supreme Court has faced mounting pressure to create a set of ethical standards in the wake of recent revelations that several justices failed to adequately disclose vacation gifts and other benefits on their annual federal disclosure filings. ProPublica targeted the court’s longest-serving jurist, Clarence Thomas, in a report released in early April.

A few weeks later, POLITICO published an exposé accusing Justice Neil Gorsuch of not providing complete information regarding the purchaser of a home valued at nearly two million dollars. Then, in August, media outlets exploded with the news that some of Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s staffers strong-armed universities and other groups into purchasing copies of her children’s book and memoir as an apparent precondition to her agreement to provide keynote speeches at their events.

Amid this turmoil, calls for an investigation into the justices arose, particularly within Democratic quarters and among other lefty liberals. Others called for the creation of a set of ethical standards for the nation’s highest court. After months of discussion and more than a few hints, SCOTUS finally released a new set of rules governing their conduct — a first for the panel of jurists. Here’s what we know.

Supreme Court Announces the Panel’s First Formal Ethics Code

On November 13, the Supreme Court released its long-anticipated new Code of Conduct. The nine-page rules included four canons suggesting proper behavior for the justices while performing their official duties and in extrajudicial settings.

Four of those rules/canons said the justices should:

  • Uphold the independence and integrity of the nation’s judicial branch;
  • Avoid impropriety of its appearance during all activities;
  • Perform their duties “fairly, impartially, and diligently;”
  • Refrain from engaging in any political activity under any circumstances.

The remaining canon stated that a justice could engage in activities beyond their official ones provided they were consistent with the obligations of their office as members of the Supreme Court.

All nine of the justices signed the final page of the new Code of Conduct.

Why Now? SCOTUS Explains

The Supreme Court explained the reasoning behind its decision to create the new Code of Conduct in a brief statement attached to its new ethics rules. The nine “undersigned Justice” explained that the court had always had the “equivalent of common law ethics rules” in place.

However, the jurists conceded that questions had emerged in recent years regarding the lack of a publicly available formal set of standards. The court also noted that some confusion had arisen, leading the public to think the justices view themselves as “unrestricted by any ethics rules.”

Therefore, SCOTUS said it promulgated the new standards to “dispel this misunderstanding.”

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