An official code of conduct has been published by the US Supreme Court for the first time. It comes after months of criticism over the acceptance of undisclosed gifts by senior justices. Here’s the story.
The Supreme Court Decision
Following months of pressure and public scrutiny, the Supreme Court of the United States has announced a new ethics code that its justices must abide by.
Established under Duress?
It established the new code of conduct after the court came under intense scrutiny due to undisclosed gifts that were received by senior conservative justices.
Higher Standards of Conduct
The opening statement of the new ethics code declared that “A Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States should maintain and observe high standards of conduct in order to preserve the integrity and independence of the federal judiciary.”
What to Avoid
The code sets out a number of general rules of conduct for the justices, such as avoiding “impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities” and making sure not to “knowingly convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the justice.”
ProPublica Launches the Story
Public scrutiny and suspicion were sparked back in April, when ProPublica, a New York-based non-profit investigative journalism organization, first reported on these previously undisclosed gifts.
Clarence Thomas under Fire
The first was Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who went on multiple trips paid for by Republican billionaire and political donor Harlan Crow.
More Benefits for Thomas
What’s more, Crow went on to pay for the school tuition of Thomas’ great-nephew. Thomas was also invited to and subsequently attended fundraising events held by the Koch brothers, who are major Republican donors.
Dubious Fishing Trip
The second report in June revealed that conservative justice Samuel Alito had also gone on a 2008 trip to Alaska with Republican billionaire Paul Singer. Neither incident had been disclosed by either justice.
The First Code of Ethics
Though there have always been official rules for judges around personal and professional conduct, this is the first time a formal code of ethics has been adopted by the Supreme Court.
A Patchwork Set of Rules
The former rules for the Court were described as an “equivalent of common law ethics rules” that came from a collection of different resources including “statutory provisions,[…] ethics advisory opinions issued by the Judicial Conference Committee on Codes of Conduct, and historic practice.”
New Rules and Principles
The new 14-page document had been written to establish the “rules and principles that guide the conduct of members of the court.” It was also accompanied by a statement that hinted at the past months of public critique.
The official statement acknowledged the absence of a code of ethics had caused “misunderstanding that the justices of this court, unlike all other jurists in this country, regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules,” a reference to the past few months of controversy.
The Supreme Court Is Questioned
This has been a major criticism levied at the Supreme Court in the last year. As the highest judicial court in the United States, a crisis like this has led many to question the ethical standards of the ultimate judicial authority in the country.
Not Everyone Agrees
Despite the negative attention, several justices reportedly resisted the court’s efforts to address the issue. Alito, one of the two justices to draw major criticism, made matters even worse when he told the Wall Street Journal that Congress had no authority over the Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Is Committed to the Court
However, other justices have expressed their commitment to upholding the reputation of the court. Chief Justice John Roberts told Politico, “I want to assure people that I’m committed to making certain that we as a court adhere to the highest standards of conduct.”
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