Special Report: Supreme Court Justices Would Be In Violation Of Ethics Code If It Applied To Them
New AFJ report outlines the consequences of having no code of ethics that applies to the justices of the Supreme Court
Five of the conservative justices have run afoul of the ethics code that applies to all lower court judges
WASHINGTON, D.C., June 28, 2022 – Today Alliance for Justice announced the release of a new special report entitled Accountable To None: The Urgent Need for Supreme Court Ethics Reforms, an essential cataloguing of ethical violations by current Supreme Court justices. There can be no accountability for these violations, however, because the Code of Conduct for lower-court judges is considered mere “guidance” for the justices, who are not required to actually follow its Five Canons.
“Time and time again, we’ve seen the conservative justices skirt their ethical obligations in favor of their political biases,” said Rakim H.D. Brooks, president of Alliance for Justice. “With their credibility at an all-time low, these justices are further undermining their ability to serve as fair arbiters of the law.”
For example, Canon 2 of the Code specifically states that judges should prevent family relationships from influencing their judicial conduct or judgment. Justice Thomas, however, has ruled in cases related to the 2020 election despite his wife Ginni Thomas’s known attempts to overturn its outcome. He is likewise expected to participate in a case related to the January 6 insurrection despite his wife’s participation in the rally that immediately precipitated that attack on the Capitol.
As another example, Canon 5 states that judges are not to participate in political activities, including making speeches at political organizations or supporting candidates for office. Last year, however, Justice Barrett spoke at the McConnell Center, founded by Sen. Mitch McConnell, where she openly discussed the politics of the Court. This would very likely violate Canon 5’s prohibitions on political activity — if it applied to the justices.
“These justices have an extreme agenda that they are working to enact both inside and outside the Court,” said Kimberly Humphrey, Senior Legislative Counsel at Alliance for Justice. “If they are unwilling to hold themselves to a higher standard, Congress must step in to ensure accountability.”
The report makes policy recommendations for how to create enforcement mechanisms when the justices undermine their office and outlines various legislative proposals already being offered. These ethics reforms would create the kind of robust transparency and anti-discrimination measures necessary to protect the democracy from justices run amok. There is no time to waste.