Supreme Court Facing Renewed Push To Implement Ethical Guidelines

The American Bar Association’s House of Delegates passed a resolution this week, pushing the high court to establish an enforceable code of ethics. This is “similar” to lower-court US judges, demonstrating growing national concern over the justices’ actions.

The ABA and its policy-making House of Delegates seldom criticize the high court, unlike leftist groups that have been pressuring the justices to impose ethics restrictions. The 591-member House of Delegates favors establishment over radicalism.

On Thursday, lawmakers reintroduced Supreme Court justice ethics measures. Lawmakers fear public outrage might boost a similar initiative that failed last year.

After judgments that defied conventions, judges’ extracurriculars are under closer scrutiny. In June, the conservative majority overturned Roe v. Wade, reversing decades of precedent.

The early release of the Dobbs ruling overturning Roe and other security breaches have tarnished the court’s reputation.

Examining Recusals and Spouses

The content of cases and reluctance to address ethics problems suggest an unaccountable court that will decide and act without consideration for public concern.

The court’s unwillingness to confront ethical issues lowered its stature, according to NYU law professor Stephen Gillers. The Supreme Court may intervene after growing criticism, notably from Congress seeking accountability.

They tried to establish ethics guidelines behind the scenes, but failed. In 2019, Justice Elena Kagan informed a US House committee that ethics code deliberations were ongoing. “It’s being very seriously considered,” Kagan said.

Court sources said internal conversations have persisted and some judges seek to write a code.

The justices seldom discuss recusal. Their disclosure reports include minimal financial details, spouse finances, and trip reimbursements.

Spouses’ actions have raised doubts about recusals, notably Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife.

Political Attack on the Supreme Court

Last year, Ginni Thomas’ counsel, Mark Paoletta, told a US House select committee that the Supreme Court might confer with, rather than adopt, lower-court judges’ rules.

In an April 2022 session, Paoletta said, “There is nothing problematic with morals and recusals at the Supreme Court.”

“Justices are honest public servants. Supporting reform legislation now would justify this nasty partisan attack on the Supreme Court.”

NYU’s Gillers, who studies legal and judicial ethics, links today’s court ethics criticism to America’s abortion battles and the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization judgment.

He claimed many people don’t understand why Roe could be overturned only because the court changes. After nearly 49 years, why now? The reversal followed Trump’s judicial appointments.

Gillers said the justices’ off-bench activities and absence of an ethics code are appropriately being probed and undermine the court’s standing. Since Dobbs, justices have publicly questioned the court’s legitimacy.

A supplementary report noted the lack of a clearly articulated, binding code of conduct for court judges threatens the court’s credibility when the ABA House of Delegates decided on its resolution in New Orleans on Monday.

Given the court’s essential position in our federal republic, its absence might threaten the legitimacy of all American courts and the legal system.

This article appeared in The Political Globe and has been published here with permission.